Dr. Paul Traver was driving from College Park to Baltimore in 1984 to rehearse his University of Maryland chorus for Mendelssohn's "Elijah" at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall when his car was broadsided. He wound up with eight broken bones on his left side and he missed the whole show.
Wednesday, six years later, the founder and artistic director of the Maryland Handel Festival gets his Meyerhoff chance again. His largely College Park-based festival does its first Baltimore performance ever with Handel's "Messiah" in a 10th anniversary concert at 8 p.m. at The Meyerhoff.
"If you think Wednesday's too far from Christmas," Traver cautioned, "remember that it used to be done not during Christmas but in Lent because operas were so profane and were banned in Lent."
"Further, only the first of "Messiah's" three parts is about the birth of Christ. The second part is about Christ's Death, Resurrection, Assension and sending the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. At that point, the work of Christ's life is finished and we hear the Hallelujah Chorus.
"Then in Part 3, there's a discussion of the impact of that life on us poor mortals."
Wednesday's version by 120 choristers and Montreal's Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra will perform the complete version, hours, 45 minutes long, the last of several that Handel himself conducted. One major difference from the others is that the aria "But who may abide" is usually sung by an alto or bass. Wednesday it'll be soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson.
Other soloists with the University of Maryland chorus will be Anne Johnson, soprano; Molly Donnelly, alto; John Aler, tenor, and David Evitts, bass.
Handel experts and fans from this country and Europe will be in Maryland for the five-day festival of music and scholarship centered mainly on the College Park campus. Up to 4000 are expected to attend.
Two other Handel highlights are scheduled. One will be the ninth English oratorio of all 18 or 19 oratorios Traver has scheduled -- what he considers the first-ever American performance of "Joseph and His Brethren" at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, in Memorial Chapel. "We are now half-way there," Traver said.
Joseph's singers are Rebecca Littig, soprano; Molly Donnelly, mezzo-soprano; Graham Pushea, counter tenor; Robert Petillo, tenor; and David Evitts, bass. As in "Messiah," the University of Maryland chorus of students, faculty, administrators and townspeople performs.
The other little jewel is the rarely produced opera, "Agrippina," at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at Tawes Recital Hall under Nicholas McGegan, conductor.
A decade ago, Traver convinced the university to support the festival because of the depth of Handel scholarship on the campus. Besides his own long-time interest in Handel (1685-1759), "We had Professor Howard Serwer, one of the important Handel scholars, and Jacob Coopersmith, editor of many Handel papers, on campus. We can only thank the administration for all its support," Traver said.
Associate professor of music at Maryland, Traver has conducted Handel and other composers in many locations himself. This summer he was in Brussels to direct Mendelssohn's "Elijah." He will do four "Messiahs" in December in Minneapolis.
Tickets for the Baltimore "Messiah" Wednesday are $20, $15, $11 and $5 for seniors and students. Call the BSO, 783-8000. For information and ticket prices on events elsewhere, call (301) 405-5568.
The Handel Festival schedule:
OCT. 31: 4 p.m., Tawes Recital Hall, U. of Md., College Park: Lecture by Don E. Saliers on the text of "The Messiah." 8 p.m., "The Messiah," Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore.
NOV. 1: 9:30 a.m., Hornbake Library, U. of Md., College Park: conference on "Handel and his performers," Howard Serwer, coordinator, and Paul Hume, moderator. 8 p.m., chamber music of Handel and Bach, Colony Ballroom, Stamp Union, U. of Md., College Park, Anner Bylsma, cello, and John Gibbons, harpsichord.
NOV. 2: 9:30 a.m., Hornbake Library, conference on "Editing and the Halle Handel Edition," Serwer and Hume. 8 p.m., Tawes Recital Hall, Young Artists Recital.
NOV. 3: 9:30 a.m.. Hornbake Library, conference on "Handel and the Old Testament," Serwer and Hume. 2 p.m. in Tawes Recital Hall, "Agrippina."
NOV. 4: 1:30 p.m., Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall, College Park, discussion on "Joseph, A Coat of Many Colors," Serwer and Hume. Festival finale, 3 p.m., Memorial Chapel, College Park, "Joseph and His Brethren."