This fall, Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute (WMI) teams up with conductor Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to bring an exciting choral creative learning project to hundreds of New York City high school students. As choir students from six New York City high schools-located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx-head back to school this fall, they will begin the final rehearsal process for WMI's Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah Project, becoming active participants in the creative process and preparing for the once in a lifetime opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop on Sunday, November 14 at 4:00 p.m. A related songwriting workshop for select students involved in the project culminates with a performance of their own student-written compositions and excerpts from the larger piece in Zankel Hall on Sunday, November 21 at 3:00 p.m.
"Once a student becomes a performer at this level, he or she will never listen to music the same way again," said Sarah Johnson, Director of the Weill Music Institute. "Creative learning projects, like this one, create an environment in which students are actively involved in the music-making process, which can have a lasting impact on their lives and the role of music in their lives."
The centerpiece of this project, a musical work conceived by Ms. Alsop, is Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah, based on Handel's famous work (and a holiday favorite). More than 250 years after Handel's Messiah was written, it remains one of the most performed and popular choral works, loved by audiences all over the world. During performances of the Messiah, the "Hallelujah Chorus" is known for getting people on their feet, and this sense of excitement prompted Ms. Alsop to suggest giving the Messiah a new twist. Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah-co-arranged and orchestrated by Ms. Alsop's colleagues Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson-takes the timeless brilliance of Handel's Messiah, and infuses it with jazz, gospel, rock, and R&B. Since its premiere in New York City by the Concordia Orchestra in 1993, this piece has become a holiday staple with orchestras and audiences around the world. During the performance on November 14, audiences will be provided sheet music from the "Hallelujah Chorus" and encouraged to sing along with the student choir.
"In thinking about the Messiah specifically," explains Ms. Alsop, "I thought about how much Handel would have liked it to be reinvented. It really lends itself, in my opinion, to different kinds of stylistic treatments. The melodies are the same; the text is the same. What is different about it is the feel and the orchestration and the harmonic additions. But the basic DNA of the piece is identical to Handel's intent, and I think that's what is very important to me, to maintain the integrity of the piece."
The Weill Music Institute's Too Hot to Handel project began in spring 2010, with students learning excerpts of this high-energy music in their own classrooms and coming together as a chorus with peers from across the city for a performance of excerpts for friends and family at Harlem Stage in Upper Manhattan in May 2010. This fall, students will continue the intensive preparation with rehearsals in their schools each week, final rehearsals at Carnegie Hall, all leading up to the Carnegie Hall performance on November 14. Soloists on the Carnegie Hall program include soprano Kecia Lewis-Evans, mezzo-soprano Vaneese Thomas, and tenor Darius de Haas.
In addition to the large-scale choral project for hundreds of students, select students involved in the project have also been given the opportunity to participate in a more intimate songwriting workshop inspired by The Gospel Messiah. Working with professional composers, students from three of these New York City high schools have been asked to explore the possibilities inherent in re-inventing or re-mixing a "masterwork." Since the spring, these students have become composers themselves, re-inventing masterpieces of their own choosing, such as "The Flower Duet" from the Léo Delibes's opera Lakmé and pop favorite Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." These students will perform the world premieres of these original works and all six choirs will perform excerpts from Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah in Zankel Hall on Sunday, November 21.
"I am indescribably excited and honored to be making my Carnegie Hall debut!" said Annmarie Errico, 17, senior at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens. "It will be an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life."
"When Tom Cabaniss [one of the composers working on this project] is behind a piano, he turns into a student," said George Pedraza, 17, senior at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens. "We all become composers through the process, while he becomes a student, learning from our ideas. Working with Tom is learning how it should be. A group effort."
Coming to carnegiehall.org this fall: Check out weekly video webisodes detailing the students' work on Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah Project, beginning in late September.
*Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
*Bayside High School
*Fordham High School for the Arts
Urban Assembly School for the
Songs of Solomon
Edward R. Murrow High School
35-12 35th Ave, Long Island City, NY 11106
32-34 Corp Kennedy St. Queens, NY 11361
500 East Fordham Rd. Bronx, NY 10458
509 West 129th Street, New York, NY 10027
133 West 138th St. Suite 3A, New York, NY 10030
1600 Avenue L, Brooklyn, NY 11230
* indicates the schools that are participating in the songwriting workshop and will premiere their new pieces on November 21.
Too Hot To Handel: The Gospel Messiah Project marks the second time that Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute has partnered with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on a creative learning project that engages New York City students. Reflecting and honoring Leonard Bernstein's role as an extraordinary educator, The Bernstein Mass Project was a key component of Carnegie Hall's and the New York Philharmonic's citywide festival Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds during the fall of 2008. It brought together hundreds of students to perform Bernstein's 1971 Mass and explore its themes of faith, doubt, tolerance, and renewal of tradition. The New York Times wrote about the project's final concert, "If only Bernstein could have been at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights on Saturday afternoon. There is nothing like young performers to refresh older pieces. And the performance of Bernstein's ‘Mass' that Marin Alsop conducted at this palatial former vaudeville house involved hundreds of young, inspired and inspiring performers."