He thought he had seen Heaven before him. He knew not whether he was in or out of his body when he wrote it. Twenty-four sleepless nights, many untouched dinners and endless tears later, his Messiah was ready to see the world. Or maybe not just yet.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, © Dave Hoffman
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,
© Dave Hoffman

True, there had been times when he was ambitious and proud. There had been times when it was all about him. Now he had learned the truth. Now he knew who it was really about.

Handel opened the last page of his manuscript and wrote three final words: “Soli Deo Gloria” (“To God Alone Is the Glory”), thus solemnly and humbly giving the credit for the best of his works to its true Creator.

Every holiday season Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, loyal to its tradition, gives its patrons a musical gift of utmost spiritual significance: a performance of Handel’s Messiah, an oratorio loved and highly praised all around the world. Even though in the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Messiah is an annual event, it always gets to be a complete sell out. Friday night was no exception.

Performed in its entirety by Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale, four highly-trained and well-matched soloists, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Edward Polochik, this Messiah was a performance of a truly deep and somewhat intimate nature.

Contrary to everyone’s expectations, there was no grandiose concert set-up. It was a subtle concert aimed to pierce one’s heart rather than to knock one off one’s feet. Polochik centered the whole evening around the artistic tandem of the orchestra and the choir, thus making it easier for the audience to focus on what they came to the Meyerhoff for: Handel and his music.

A keen musician and director, Polochik managed to grasp the essence of Handel’s musical philosophy. For Handel music was never tied to one story. It was always about projecting that story into people’s lives so they could learn from it and be better.

The choristers created a profound narrative, painting vivid scenes from the Old and New Testaments and taking us down the path of Jesus Christ, all the way from his birth through the thorns of rejection and humiliation to the everlasting joy and light. What we heard was the story of all mankind. What we followed was the path of Man from the years of innocent childhood to the age of knowledge, wisdom and ultimate truth.

From the fast-paced and most uplifting rendition of “For unto us a child is born”, which boasted refined diction and effortless canonic singing, to the deeply dramatic crescendos of “Surely he hath borne our grief”, to the brilliantly sung Halleluja Chorus that had the whole house up on their feet, this was a wholesome, secure and profoundly spiritual performance.

However, the greatest triumph of the evening belonged to the leading trumpeter, Andrew Balio, whose virtuosic solo in the glorious “The trumpet shall sound” was what made the whole evening truly memorable. Balio’s inspiration, ease, joy and feel of Handel proved that this artist was thoroughly in his element and certainly no novice when it came to Handel’s music. His performance gave us the true taste of Handel’s music at its best: grandiose yet quite attainable, majestic yet simple, dramatic yet sheer and so full of light that no-one left the Meyerhoff that night without a glimpse of hope in his heart.

As the program progressed, Polochik’s artistic concept of Messiah came through with more vividness. For Handel, who composed Messiah, it was about God and the music that He had put into the composer’s ears. However, for the artists who performed Messiah onstage, it was all about Handel and the timeless musical heritage he had left to us all.

As the artists were taking their final bows, Polochik picked up the sacred score and held it up in the air as if solemnly and humbly giving the credit for his successful performance of Messiah to its genius creator.