Schola Cantorum: Handel's Samson

Event time: 
Sunday, October 14, 2012 - 1:00pm
Event description: 


Yale Schola Cantorum
Nicholas McGegan, guest conductor

Handel: Samson

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2011 | 5 PM


Scott Mello, Samson

Megan Chartrand, Delilah

free; no tickets required. presented with support from Yale School of Music


Samson, composed on the heels of Messiah in 1741, is highly representative of Handel’s oratorio output. The 1743 Covent Garden oratorio season is remembered for the London premiere of Messiah, but it was Samson that accounted for most of the performances. The story is drawn from the Old Testament, but the text is a poetic drama instead of a biblical excerpt. (Messiah is one of only two oratorios by Handel to set a Biblical text.) The libretto for Samson was prepared by an amateur librettist, Newburgh Hamilton, who made his living as steward to the third Earl of Stafford. Hamilton’s libretto is a free adaptation of John Milton’s play Samson Agonistes, to which he added arias and choruses derived from other poems by Milton. The play had a powerful effect on Handel, who heard it read aloud in 1739. A witness reports that Handel, who sat at the keyboard during the reading, “played I think better than ever, & his harmony was perfectly adapted to the sublimity of the poem.” In Handel’s original score, Samson concludes with a somber elegy for the title character, “Glorious Hero.” Before the first performance, however, Handel added a final aria (“Let the bright seraphim”) and chorus (“Let their celestial concerts all unite”) which conclude the oratorio in a more cheerful mood. (Read the full program note here.)
Nicholas McGegan has been a remarkably durable presence amid the shifting winds of historically-informed performance in the world of baroque music, making his name with a healthy respect for—but a certain distance from—the early-music tastemakers of his native England during long-term appointments with San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (which was named Musical America’s 2004 Ensemble of the Year), Germany’s International Handel-Festival Göttingen, Sweden’s Drottningholm Theatre, The Milwaukee Symphony and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
He appears on more than 100 recordings, a significant number of them with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra for Harmonia Mundi USA, part of a series of pioneering Handel recordings which includes the Grammy-nominated, Gramophone Award-winning Susanna. Last year Philharmonia Baroque formed their own label, releasing four new CDs to great acclaim and immediately garnering a GRAMMY® nomination for their Haydn Symphonies disc. He attributes much of this success to working with singers who share his sense of musical adventure, such as Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Lisa Saffer. He encourages his singers to improvise their own ornaments and cadenzas, though he holds no one to slavish ideas of correct performance, which he describes as “an ongoing inquiry.”