BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer
Handel's "Messiah" was made for Christmas, and the Bakersfield Master Chorale was made to sing it. Literally.
"We will perform seven great choruses from 'Messiah,'" said Robert Provencio, the choir's musical director.
A Master Chorale Christmas
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Olive Drive Church, 4500 Olive Drive
Admission: $20; $10 students. Available at the door, www.bakersfieldmasterworks.org, California Keyboards, Russo's Books and World Records.
Provencio said he selected choruses from all three sections of the oratorio -- the Nativity; Passion-Death-Resurrection; and Redemption/Day of Judgment -- starting with "Since by Man Came Death," from the final section.
"Then we go to what 'Messiah' does and that's to tell the story of the birth of Christ," Provencio said. "We sing three choruses -- including 'For Unto Us a Son is Born.'"
Provencio said the choir will finish that part of the concert with the famous "Hallelujah" chorus.
"They're probably singing 50 percent more this time because we did not engage soloists. We are not going to enjoy the solos -- instead we are going to enjoy the choir."
And this choir was built for the job. Celebrating 80 years of performing at least some part of Handel's timeless oratorio, the choir actually was founded in 1933 as the Messiah Chorus, with the express purpose of performing that masterwork.
A name change and a broader focus came in 1962, when the choral society became the Bakersfield Masterworks Chorale.
In addition to the annual "Messiah" concert at Christmastime, the choir linked itself with Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, becoming the orchestra's symphonic choir for an annual concert during the BSO season.
The choir has changed its name again -- to the Bakersfield Master Chorale, but hasn't lost sight of its tradition, said Provencio, a Cal State Bakersfield professor who took on the role of music director of the choir in 2012.
The choir has improved dramatically in the last 18 months -- with new members and new initiatives to build up the group, the director said.
"They've just made wonderful, tremendous strides in being able to handle complex music in a sensitive and artistic manner."
The choir will be recruiting more singers immediately after finishing Saturday's concert. The choir will hold open auditions at its next rehearsal at First Assembly of God Church at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
While focusing on the choir, Provencio hasn't given up completely on solo performers -- he's just growing his own. Three participants in the choir's new Artist Development Program -- Ashten Smith, Kristen Falls and Lawrence Lyons -- will perform solos in the other major work on the December program: Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols."
"These carols blend Medieval and Renaissance hymnody that's really the essence of the (Christmas) carol," Provencio said. "These Medieval carols sort of explain Christian theology, as does 'Messiah.'"
Scored for voices and harp, "A Ceremony of Carols" features harpist Kathleen Moon.
The choir also will perform Morten Lauridsen's famous setting of "O Magnum Mysterium," along with a number of other American-composed and arranged Christmas carols. They will be accompanied by Elizabeth Cervantes.
The concert will finish with a set of eight traditional Christmas carols and a chance for audience members to sing along.
"I'm thinking it's a wonderful way to launch the Christmas season," Provencio said.