Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah is back for a fourth outing, again under the musical direction of Adam Scime. The formula is basically the same as previous years.
- Take excerpts from Handel’s Messiah
- Add some new music
- Arrange for small chamber ensemble, electronics and turntables (Sarah Svendsen, analog and electric harpsichord; Joel Schwartz, electric guitar; Jeff McLeod, electric organl; SlowPitchSound, turntablist)
- Take a quartet of singers from different vocal traditions (Jonathan MacArthur, Katherine Hill, Aviva Chernick and Alex Samaras)
- Throw in a dancer (Lybido)
- Have some of the text sung in a language relevant to the singer (Gaelic, Hebrew, Swedish this time)
- Stage it at Drake Underground
This year in addition there was some interpolated music not directly derived from Messiah; to whit, a gospel piece for Samaras called “Personal Jesus” and a harpsichord solo.
The balance of voices, the new music, changes to the staging all made for a different experience from previous years. Musically it’s probably more coherent and integrated. The staging has simplified cutting out some of the more gimmicky stuff (no mobile phones). There’s also much less of Charles Jennens’ original text; at least in English. This likely will not bother a lot of people; most if post-show discussion is to go by, but it did bother me. Much of the appeal of the Messiah, for me, lies in the quirky but powerful extracts from the KJV that Jennens chose. I also found the interpolations; coming close together in the middle third of the show, pulled me out of the Messiah side of the experience. Maybe if they had been spaced further apart I’d have felt different.
The performances though were excellent. All four singers made notable contributions from the four part arrangement of “Comfort Ye”, to Katherine accompanying herself on nyckelharpa, to Aviva’s jazzy, moving “He Gave His Back to the Smiters”, to Jonathan’s kilted Gaelic (no yak!) and Alex’ powerful “Personal Jesus”. My only very minor beef would be that the voices were a bit similar in timbre; all quite bright, so the darker tones one gets with the traditional SATB quartet were somewhat absent.
There was some very fine playing from all the instrumentalists and Lybido did his thing, as he does. So there it is; another, different Electric Messiah with a somewhat different focus. It’s a good show that’s evolved quite far from EM I. I want to see another one but wonder whether there’s room to keep “evolving” the show. Maybe it’s time to rethink the concept from scratch?
Electric Messiah plays at the Drake Underground with further shows tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm.