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Experience the triumph! For first time, Pacific Symphony tells the story of great hero in Jewish history with Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus” led by Pacific Chorale’s John Alexander

November 21, 2013

Emotional arias and powerful choruses have the audience rejoicing in the victory of “Judas Maccabaeus,” as Pacific Symphony opens the holiday season with the rare opportunity to hear Handel’s jubilant oratorio. With all of the drama and flair of his operas, the Baroque composer masterfully tells of the Israelites’ rich journey from hardship to triumph. One of peace, harmony and faith, the story of Judas Maccabees forms the basis for the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, and is often defined as history’s first war for religious freedom. For this performance, Pacific Chorale’s Artistic Director John Alexander leads the orchestra, chorale and esteemed vocal soloists Lauren Snouffer, soprano; Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano; I-Chin Feinblatt, alto; Thomas Cooley, tenor; William Berger, baritone; and The All American Boys Chorus for an inspiring and rousing musical experience.

Generously sponsored by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, this special one-performance only of “Judas Maccabaeus” takes place Sunday, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. A preview talk takes place at 2 p.m., led by Robert Istad. Tickets are $25-$99; for more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“‘Judas Maccabaeus’ was Handel’s most popular oratorio during Handel’s lifetime, even surpassing the popularity of ‘Messiah,’” says Maestro Alexander. “Although the work remained popular with audiences all the way into the early 20th century, in recent years the number of performances of this masterpiece has for some reason diminished. But I love this inspired work. It has been many years since I’ve had the opportunity to conduct it, and I am thrilled that the Pacific Symphony has decided to include it in their programming this year.”

“Judas” was written by Handel five years after “Messiah”—which is being performed by the Symphony on Dec. 15—and while the latter is more serene and contemplative than the former, both exemplify the extraordinary beauty of Handel’s music.

“In both works, we get to experience Handel’s music when he was at the zenith of his compositional oratorio style,” says Alexander. “If someone loves hearing “Messiah,” I predict they will also love hearing ‘Judas Maccabaeus.’ I think it should be a regular in the seasonal repertoire.”

George Frideric Handel composed the oratorio “Judas Maccabaeus” in 1746 after his departure from operas, and included a libretto by Thomas Morell. The script is taken mainly from the Bible’s book of Maccabees, which portrays Jewish resistance to the Greek customs of Antiochus IV of Syria in pre-Christian times. Handel composed the piece to honor Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, to commemorate his victory over Charles Edward Stuart in the Battle of Culloden. Handel likens the prince’s success with that of the Maccabees in their fight against the Syrians.

“Judas is a dramatic story of a great leader defending his homeland, Judea, from the invading Syrians,” adds Alexander. “This historically took place some 150 years before the time of Christ. The celebration of Judas’ victories, credited for saving the life and customs of the Jewish people, is of course the essence of the annual seasonal celebration of Hanukkah. Through the nature of this story, the work is full of dramatic calls to battle, victorious celebration and praise for the virtues of liberty and justice.”

The oratorio is made up of three acts, where each depicts an evolution from despondence to exultation as a result of courage and faith in God. The oratorio begins with one of Handel’s most magnificent orchestral works, an overture rich with grandiose rhythms and fierce martial airs, as well as a fugue that confirms the story’s joyful conclusion. Handel’s oratorio includes the famous chorus “See, the conqu’ring hero come,” which was adapted for Beethoven’s 12 variations for piano and cello, and became ubiquitous across England in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It also provides the melody for a popular Christmas carol in Germany.

The Symphony’s performance includes an array of talented voices: American soprano Lauren Snouffer has been in a diverse range of roles spanning from Phénice and La Gloire in Lully’s “Armide” to Clorinda in Monteverdi’s “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” to Florestine in Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles,” Ruth Baldwin in Musto’s “Later the Same Evening” and the Princess in Susa’s “Transformations.” The artist was also a grand finalist in the 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and is a graduate of Rice University and The Juilliard School.

Widely praised for her musical intelligence, “memorable, raw-silk voice” by the Toronto Star and “expressive virtuosity” by the San Francisco Chronicle, American Meg Bragle is quickly earning an international reputation as one of today’s most gifted and versatile mezzo-sopranos. She has performed repertoire by Franz Schubert, Antonio Vivaldi, Johannes Brahms and Stephen Foster with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and she is a frequent featured soloist with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra and English Baroque Soloists, with whom she reunites in the 2013 season for tours of Europe and Australia.

Alto I-Chin “Betty” Feinblatt sings professionally with Pacific Chorale, the John Alexander Singers and is a cantor for St. Paul’s Cathedral Center in Echo Park. She has performed as a chorister and soloist with Pacific Chorale on numerous occasions, appearing most recently as a soloist in Duruflé’s Requiem, Bach’s “St. John’s Passion” and Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers.” Among her Southland solo performances are Handel’s “Messiah” with The National Children’s Choir at The Broad Stage of Santa Monica and Camerata Singers of Long Beach.

Tenor Thomas Cooley is known for his great versatility, expressiveness and virtuosity. Highlights from the 2012-13 season included Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Atlanta Symphony, Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” with Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Handel’s “Messiah” at Minnesota Orchestra, Bach’s “Lutheran Mass” with Les Violons du Roy and Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” at Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival.

Described as “one of the best of our younger baritones” by Gramophone Magazine, William Berger is an accomplished vocalist who after two years in the Young Singers Programme at English National Opera debuted at Liceu Barcelona, Vlaamse Opera, Opera Lucerne and the Aix-en-Provence. Opera engagements have included the title role in Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” and all of Mozart’s leading baritone roles, including Count Almaviva, Papageno, Don Giovanni and Guglielmo, as well as in operas by Handel, Haydn, Puccini, Janáček and Weill.

Guests are also treated to the internationally-acclaimed All American-Boys Chorus (AABC), a world-class boys choir based in Costa Mesa. Led by acclaimed Artistic Director Wesley Martin, AABC serves over 100 boys ages 8-18. AABC choristers have collaborated with performing groups and artists near and far, including John Williams, Opera Pacific, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Josh Groban and the Vienna Boys Choir. The 2013 summer tour included concerts in New Zealand and Australia, where they also mentored students in music and choral workshops at local schools.