The Sunday, March 23, presentation of George Frederick Handel’s 1743 oratorio “Samson” marks the first of two full presentations of choral works by Handel offered as part of a Handel Festival developed by two area organizations dedicated to music for voice: Voices and Princeton Pro Musica.
Handel’s “Samson” has its roots both in both the Bible and in English poet John Milton’s 1671 poetic drama “Samson Agonistes.” The work begins after the Hebrew hero’s betrayal by his paramour, Dalila, and his subsequent blinding and imprisonment by the enemies of his people. It ends with his personal redemption and victory. The work is noted for the use of dramatic music to advance the story.
Voices music director Lyn Ransom says “The beginnings of this six-event festival occurred last spring as part of my search for Handel repertoire for Voices. By May I knew that both Westminster and Princeton Pro Musica were doing ‘Israel in Egypt,’ so we reviewed several of Handel’s other oratorios and chose ‘Samson.’
“I was also thinking that we live in an area rich with singers, excellent university music programs, good choruses, and skilled amateur and professional singers. Why not offer good amateurs a chance to work with excellent coaches to further their skill? And Handel was the perfect medium — popular with singers, familiar, challenging, but not unmanageably difficult. I’d also been wanting to offer something special for members of different choirs, some specific skills that might not be addressed during regular rehearsals, such as singing 16th note runs in Handel’s music.
“I went to Princeton Pro Musica in early August and asked them if they’d like to collaborate on an informal Handel Festival, and Ryan Brandau was immediately enthusiastic, as was his board.”
The festival concludes on Sunday, May 11, when Princeton Pro Music presents “Israel in Egypt” at Richardson Auditorium in Princeton.
Voices is an auditioned chorus with more than 50 members from central New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. For the March 23 production Ransom conducts chorus, orchestra, and six soloists with tenor David Kellett. A demonstration of instruments similar to those used in Handel’s time is set for 2:30 p.m.
Samson, St. James Church, 115 Delaware Avenue, Pennington. Sunday, March 23, 3 p.m. $10 to $35. www.voiceschorale.org or 609-637-9383.
Israel in Egypt, Princeton Pro Musica, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Sunday, May 11, 3 p.m. $25 to $55. www.princetonpromusica.org.