Conductor Polochick's approach to 'Messiah'

December 04, 2008|By Tim Smith

Since 1982, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has presented Handel's Messiah note-complete each December (excepting one year when the musicians were on strike), and all of those performances have been conducted by Edward Polochick. His distinctive approach to the beloved oratorio, and his ability to generate vivid music-making, make this annual event a treasured holiday tradition.

How long did it take you to develop your interpretation of Messiah?

It has truly been an evolution. It wasn't possible to do everything I wanted with the soloists, chorus and orchestra we had at the beginning. The orchestra didn't even want to play Messiah at first. But word quickly spread that it was fun, and some of the players have performed it every single year. By now, my interpretation is pretty fine-tuned. We never do a complete run-through at rehearsal, so the performance is always fresh. Every year there's something different that comes along. Hopefully, the surprise will be for the audience, and not the performers.

Around the time the BSO's Messiah presentations started, the authenticity movement - an attempt to re-create original performance practices for baroque and other early music - was in full swing. Did that influence you?

Part of my philosophy was a revolt against some of that stuff. I didn't like what I was hearing, the very clipped articulation. It didn't speak to me. Probably what I'm doing is a semi-romantic approach in terms of sound, but I still try to be stylistically correct. I would hate to sacrifice the dramatic impact of the text just for stylistic sake.

In addition to some very fast tempos, your Messiah typically has lots of ornamentation - adding extra notes to the melodic line in solo arias. Are the soloists usually receptive to ornamenting?

Some singers are not at all comfortable with it. Each year, I tell the soloists in advance that I would like them to be open to ornamentation. I usually spend several hours going over ideas with them. I try to tailor the ornaments to their individual voices. Ornamentation has crept into the chorus, as well as the soloists and orchestra, over the years.

One of the coolest effects in your Messiah performances comes in some soft choral passages, when you have the choristers hold their scores right in front of their faces to cut the volume.

It was a technique I thought of when I wanted a very hushed, dark, eerie, covered sound.

IF YOU GO

The BSO performs Handel's "Messiah" at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $20 to $60. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.

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