Andrew Raiskums on the Messiah

We sat down with our conductor Andrew Raiskums and asked him a few questions about our forthcoming Messiah performance. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell us a little about your personal history with Handel’s Messiah.

My first encounter with Messiah was as a first-year student at Melbourne Uni. I was asked to join the ranks of the tenor section in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus (or The Melbourne Chorale as it was back then) for their annual performances. It was a baptism by fire. I had a week to learn it all and get it in the voice. All those notes are definitely still there! My first time conducting the work was in 2007 – I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve conducted it since.

What is your approach to the work?

The grandiosity is there in a number of the choruses and arias but large sections of the work are quite intimate. It’s very gratifying to me to shade the intimate moments down and contrast them to the huge welter-of-sound moments with the trumpets and timpani. Handel knew how to play an audience. He ends Part 2 of the work with the Hallelujah Chorus but begins Part 3 with one of his most beautiful arias – I know that my Redeemer liveth – the sense of theatre is already there, all you need to do is work with it and draw it out.

Why do you use period instruments in this performance?

It’s a revelation to have an all-baroque orchestra. The sound world is so intoxicating. It also encourages lightness and fluidity which, with the lower pitch, really assists the singers. Also, we have a luscious continuo group this year: cello, violone, chamber organ, harpsichord, theorbo and baroque guitar.

What can you tell us about your soloists?

I’ve worked extensively with all four of our soloists. The first time I had Cristina Russo sing the soprano solos she had moved house the day of the concert -  but you wouldn’t have known because she was brilliant in the performance. Max Riebl has a stunning voice and is one of those singers who make you feel he is singing only to you. Tim Reynolds is in my mind the perfect Handel tenor. And it’s always a joy to work with Nick Dinopoulos because he’s such a compelling communicator.

And lastly, what makes your Messiah different to all the others that are offered in Melbourne?

We present our performance in a church, which apart from the resonance that gives the story, brings the audience right into the unfolding drama. We’ve also developed our own interpretation, which means I can take risks here and there because of the level of trust we all have in each other. There’s never a feeling of routine and every performance is different. Handel’s level of inspiration in this work is exalted and it just sweeps you along. The final ‘Amen’ is one of the great miracles in music.