The Woodlands is well known as a community that was conceived and built through the efforts of exceptional visionaries. It was fitting that the recent production of the “Messiah” was produced by yet another group of Woodlands visionaries who were not intimidated by an awesome task. The extraordinary fruits of their labors were awesome as well.
With the cooperation of Pastor Kerry Shook and his staff, the monumental event was presented in the soaring, and beautifully decorated sanctuary of Fellowship of the Woodlands church. The huge cast of singers and musicians were dressed in formal attire for this performance of George Frederic Handel’s very formal choral masterpiece. Music Director, Dagang Chen, conducted his own Woodlands Symphony Orchestra, the Woodlands Symphony Chorus (Robert Hunt, Director), the Montgomery County Choral Society (Ann Lee, Director), and the Woodlands Symphony Youth Chorus (Keith Brumfield,Director). The skilled soloists for the evening were Karim Sulayman, tenor, Sasha Cooke, alto, Brian Speck, baritone, and Tara Faircloth, soprano.
Offered free to the public, the concert was funded through the generosity of Rhea Wheeler, Robert & Kim Marling, and George Sowers of Woodforest National Bank. Mr. Wheeler, who conceived the idea of a Woodlands “Messiah” several years ago, spoke highly of the many artistic contributions Mr. Chen and his organization have made to the community. Offering thanks for the hard work of everyone involved, Chen estimated that over four thousand “person hours” were involved in the huge undertaking. At 7:55 p.m., when he raised his baton to begin, it became clear that all the efforts had paid off.
Whether conducting vigorous choral sequences or passages of gentle power, Chen has an intensity of focus that is fascinating to watch. For this lengthy piece (lasting well over an hour), the assembled choral groups were well prepared to translate Chen’s intense direction into the kind of musical excellence that Handel must have hoped for. Both chorus and musicians had clearly done their homework, and the results were most pleasing to the ear.
The same was true for the fine soloists. Mr. Speck’s rich baritone voice, and the confident stage presence and tenor power of Mr. Sulayman were added highlights. The ladies brought both talent and beauty to the stage. Miss Cooke’s gown flashed of silver while she sang the golden notes of her difficult assignment. In an airy and elegant pale olive gown, with stunning matching jeweled necklace, the beautiful Miss Faircloth demonstrated a very pleasing soprano voice that featured great clarity. Her delightful performance seemed almost effortless.
The enthusiastic audience was not worried about strict musical protocol and applauded frequently. It was quickly on its feet for the familiar “Hallelujah Chorus,” and some were probably a bit surprised that it was not, in fact, the “thrilling conclusion” of the work. But when the great “Amen” was sung, the audience was up again for one last standing ovation. It was much deserved.
(The Courier 12.22.02)