2017 Concert: Handel’s Messiah Parts 2 & 3

by Blog, Concert

Sometimes opportunities come “out of the blue.”

This certainly seemed to be the case over a year ago. A casual request was made to Don King to establish a community chorus for the purpose of singing the Messiah. To accomplish this, advice was sought from a beloved area musician, George Bitzas, who made a key suggestion—ask Don Neuen to be the guest conductor, as Neuen had done this all over the world. Dr. Neuen agreed to come for the initial concert on April 2, 2017.

Handel’s Messiah Parts 2 and 3 | Sunday, April 2, 2017 7:30 PM
Tennessee Theatre | Knoxville, Tennessee

Wendell Boertje was asked to join the planning team. The organization of Knoxville Handel Society was incorporated on June 1, 2016. Its purpose is the establishment of a collaborative choral group in the Knoxville Metropolitan area for the enjoyment and performance of classical masterworks. A Board of Directors was appointed and the first meeting occurred on August 8, 2016. The decision was made to procure the Tennessee Theatre and to invite area professional soloists to our endeavor. The major task before the organization was then to establish a choir. Don Neuen stated that in his entire career he had never contracted to conduct a performance for which the choir did not exist.

The leadership of KHS agreed that the choir would be recruited by invitation only, by contacting known capable vocalists in the metropolitan Knoxville area. There was also an effort to identify former Don Neuen students and invite them to join. Recruitment began October 18, 2016, ending with the first rehearsal on February 12, 2017.

Music educators of area high schools were involved during this time of recruitment. At the January 8, 2017 Board meeting, Wendell Boertje expressed concern that the Choral Art was being lost on the next generation. This resulted in the decision to issue free tickets to students K-12. Selected high school students were invited to participate, which created a multi-generational choir.

Messiah scores, hand-marked by Donald Neuen himself with very detailed instructions, were provided to the choir. Rehearsals were conducted by Music Directors Don King and Wendell Boertje. Dr. Neuen arrived for the final week of intense rehearsals of choir, orchestra and soloists.

Tonight’s performance is the culmination of our dreams and vision to bring perhaps the greatest choral masterwork of all ages in Messiah. We thank you for your participation in this momentous occasion.

Notes on Messiah

Alfred Mann’s twenty-five years of research for the Messiah edition used for this performance brought to light important characteristics of the score.

First, although Handel had to “put up with” ornamentation and embellishments of his operas when performed in Italy, he did not permit it in England with his oratorios. Thus, the avid movement in the 1960’s to greatly embellish Handel’s beautiful melodic lines with florid ornamentation is, we might say, interesting–but all wrong. To further substantiate this, Handel very specifically, and only once, wrote the directive “ad lib” in his Messiah score— in measure 8 of the first solo, “Comfort Ye.” He didn’t ask for it again.

Second, since (1) there are examples in which Handel actually notated a double-dotted quarter note, and (2) double-dotting is more appropriate in tempi slower than would be suitable for Messiah’s opening “Sinfony,” the rhythms should be performed exactly as written, and not double-dotted.

Third, Handel composed seven different styles of choruses for Messiah, each to be singularly interpreted in a very particular manner:

1. Lilting, Siciliano-type Triple-meter—“And the Glory”
2. Light Duet Texture (because he took his previously written secular love duets and simply reworked them as choruses for Messiah)— “All We Like Sheep”
3. Full Anthem-Sound—“Worthy is the Lamb”
4. Renaissance Style—grave a cappella portions of “Since by Man Came Death”
5. Uplifting Angel Chorus—“Lift Up Your Heads”
6. Turba (Dramatic) Chorus—“He Trusted in God”
7. Baroque “Dance”—“Hallelujah!”

Thus, these Messiah choruses must each have the style and flavor for which they were very colorfully intended.

Another significant point concerns the size of the choral forces. Handel usually used smaller choruses, because that is all he had at his disposal. At times, however, he used well over one hundred singers. For authenticity, therefore, it is not the size of the chorus that matters as much as the styles in which the singers perform these seven distinctive types of choruses.

The late, internationally renowned Handel scholar, Jens Peter Larson of Copenhagen, stated, with a twinkle in his eye, and a smile on his then 84-year-old face, “Fine Handel (allegro) is just like fine jazz. It must come alive and dance with spirit and rhythmic vitality.” We hope to present just that for you tonight, a spirited and vitally alive presentation of the oratorio written for the concert hall (not the church), Handel’s monumental Messiah.

Donald Neuen, Guest Conductor

Donald Neuen returns to Knoxville as Guest Conductor for the inaugural performance of Knoxville Handel Society, presenting Messiah, Parts 2 and 3. Neuen has been in residence for the entire week, for final rehearsals of the chorus, soloists and orchestra.

The impact of Donald Neuen’s leadership in the Music Department of University of Tennessee cannot be overstated. He served as Professor of Conducting and Director of Choral Activities at UT from 1973-1981. Neuen is remembered for outstanding programs integrating multiple choirs and instrumentalists. In addition to choral conducting, Neuen’s unique orchestral experience includes the position of Conductor and Musical Director of the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Prior to his tenure at UT, he collaborated with Robert Shaw, beginning in 1959. Mr. Shaw, a major force in Neuen’s development as a choral conductor, was his teacher, musical advisor, and mentor. Neuen was a member of the world-famous Robert Shaw Chorale.

Robert Shaw brought Neuen to Atlanta in 1970 as his Assistant Conductor to create the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Upon completion of Neuen’s preparation of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, Mr. Shaw stated in a newspaper interview, “Don Neuen’s choral work is the best in the country—nothing in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles compares.”

In 1981, Neuen was appointed to the faculty of the prestigious Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York. In 1993, Neuen accepted the position of Professor of Music/Conducting and Director of Choral Activities for UCLA. He developed the highly-acclaimed UCLA Chorale and a graduate program in Choral Conducting—both the Master of Music (MM) and the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA). In 2013 Neuen received UCLA’s prestigious award of “Distinguished Professorship.”

Neuen is also the conductor of the internationally televised Hour of Power Choir, viewed by millions throughout the world each week.

Neuen studied extensively with major renowned choral conductors Robert Shaw, Roger Wagner and with Musicologists Julius Herford, Alfred Mann, Karl Geiringer, Lara Hoggard and Patrick Macy. His musical editions and compositions are published by Lawson-Gould, Hinshaw Music, Inc. and The Chorister’s Guild.


Caitlin Bolden, Mezzo Soprano, is a graduate of the University of Tennessee (MM) and The Ohio State University (BM). She has performed in productions with Chautauqua Opera, Knoxville Opera, the Janiec Opera Company at Brevard Music Center, the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre, OSU Opera, Marble City Opera, and Nightingale Opera Theatre. Favorite performances include Marcellina (Le nozze di Figaro), Effie (The Ballad of Baby Doe), Baba (The Medium), Proskovia (The Merry Widow), the Dating Coordinator in the World Premiere of Speed Dating Tonight!, and the Alto solo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Ms. Bolden is a native of Akron, Ohio, but currently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Andrew Skoog, Tenor, made his New York debut at Carnegie Hall as tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Rutter, internationally acclaimed composer and conductor. He returned to Carnegie Hall in 2005 as tenor soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana, with Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In addition, Skoog has also sung with the American Symphony Orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. In demand for orchestral engagements, Skoog made his international debut in 2006 singing Carmina Burana with the Bergen Philharmonic in Bergen, Norway. Critics hail him as ideal in Carmina Burana because of his “full, lyric delivery in the demanding, high tessitura,” which he has also performed with many major orchestras. He sang his thirty-eighth performance of this work this past season in his debut with the Colorado Symphony.
Sought after for Messiah, Skoog recently performed this work with the Duke University Chapel Choir and Symphony Orchestra, the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, and with numerous orchestras throughout the United States. Currently Skoog is Professor of Voice at the University of Tennessee.

Alexandria Shiner, Soprano, has been praised for her dramatic stage presence and powerful voice. A native of Michigan currently living in Knoxville, Tennessee, she is a frequently sought-after young artist. Ms. Shiner is a recent graduate student of the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Most recently, she received an encouragement award in the 2017 Middle East Tennessee District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She placed second in the young artist category of the 2016 Orpheus National Music Competition for Vocalists. In July 2016, she competed as the Mid-South Regional Winner in the NATS Artist Awards in Chicago. Ms. Shiner was honorably mentioned as one of Knoxville’s Most Memorable Operatic Performances of 2015 for her portrayal of Magda Sorel and Queen of the Night with the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre. Ms. Shiner has performed the roles of Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Magda Sorel (The Consul), Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflote), Madame Kirsten (The Beautiful Bridegroom), and the title role in Amelia Goes to the Ball. She has performed with Knoxville Opera, Marble City Opera, and Opera Naples. In 2014, by invitation of Manhattan Concert Productions, Ms. Shiner performed on the Fourth Annual Collegiate Honors Recital in Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall. She attended the American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria in 2013.

Andrew Wentzel, Bass-Baritone, is an exciting and commanding figure in opera houses and concert halls throughout the world. Wentzel was declared a “vocal standout… who alone achieved a touch of human emotion through strong, sensitive singing” by Opera News following performances of Banquo in Macbeth. The Washington Times agreed, lauding his “flexible but powerful voice” which has “vocal reserves to spare and total abandon in his phrasing.”
Having made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1986, Mr. Wentzel went on to perform numerous roles at the MET while maintaining a significant presence in opera houses and with symphony orchestras across North America. Included in that list are performances with Calgary Opera, New York City Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Mr. Wentzel is Professor of Voice at the University of Tennessee. He has been UT’s Anthem Man for all home football games for the past 16 seasons.

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