3 gems for next La Jolla Symphony & Chorus concert: Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ a rediscovered concerto and a world premiere, Dec. 8-9


La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (LJS&C) continues a season-long exploration of the theme “Lineage” with its second concert of the 2018-19 series. Steven Schick will conduct orchestra, chorus and soloists in a celebration of the holidays, Dec. 8 and 9, 2018; at Mandeville Auditorium on the UC San Diego campus, with Handel’s “Messiah,” featuring the rarely performed arrangement by Mozart for large orchestra.

The program will begin with Florence Price’s “Violin Concerto No. 2” — a recently re-discovered gem written more than 65 years ago.

Also on the program is the world premiere of this year’s Thomas Nee Commission, “Between Clouds and Streams,” by Chinese-American composer Qingqing Wang.

Price was a remarkable African-American composer that history nearly forgot. Born in 1887 in Little Rock, she spent most of her career in Chicago, achieving some success when her work was championed by the Chicago Symphony in the 1930s. During her lifetime, she wrote over 300 works, including four symphonies, two violin concertos, a piano concerto, piano music, and a large number of songs and choral compositions.

Yet, most of these remain unpublished. Price’s music is only now being discovered by audiences. The “Violin Concerto No. 2,” composed in 1952, received its orchestral premiere in February of this year by the Arkansas Philharmonic, with Er-Gene Kahng soloing. The 14-minute concerto is romantic, sweeping and melody-driven, with brilliant passages for the violin soloist, performed in this concert by LJS&C Concertmaster David Buckley.

“Between Clouds and Streams,” composed by 2018 Thomas Nee Commission recipient Qingqing Wang, is a two-movement work for orchestra inspired by nature and the Chinese ink-wash painting technique call Gouliu, which combines blank spaces and blurred outlines with clearly sketched detail. The piece incorporates new sounds and, at times, an experimental conducting technique called “conduction” to express an inner world of energy and motion. Wang is pursuing her Ph.D. at UC San Diego, studying composition with Lei Liang.

George Frideric Handel premiered “Messiah” in Dublin on April 13, 1742 to stunning success. For the following two-and-a-half centuries it has remained a staple of Christmas celebrations. “Messiah” is structured on Christianity’s three holy days — Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. The text, by Handel’s long-time friend Charles Jennens, does not cast the work as a drama, there’s no narrative line, rising action or climax. Instead, Jennens chose texts about specific incidents in the life of Christ.

Handel’s music is magnificent, and he blesses the soloists with some of the most appealing melodies ever written. Originally scored for a very small orchestra (two oboes, two trumpets, timpani, and strings), Mozart’s re-orchestration in 1789 is for much larger orchestra, including some instruments Handel would not have known. The present performances offer Part I of “Messiah” (the “Christmas” section) and conclude with the Hallelujah Chorus from Part II. Messiah is usually heard in the edition prepared by the English musicologist Watkins Shaw in 1959, but at these concerts it is presented in the orchestration by Mozart. The soloists will be soprano Danielle Talamantes, mezzo-soprano Mindy Ella Chu, tenor Derek Chester, and bass-baritone Kerry Wilkerson.

IF YOU GO: Performances are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 in Mandeville Auditorium on the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla. Tickets: $15-$35. (858) 534-4637