It's Christmas Eve morning here in Japan, and reading the morning news of calls for an arms race, tensions rising over Israel/Palestine resolutions at the UN, as well as updates about any of the myriad of other horrors reported this past week has not contributed to my sense of Holiday Spirit. Waking up and reading the morning news each day this month has been heartbreaking - reading of our world that is so sharply divided and deep in conflict in every corner has been a stark contrast with the Messiahs I've been traveling around performing these past few weeks.
As the tenor soloist in a performance of Messiah, I have the distinct privilege of kicking off the piece with one of its most beautiful moments, an accompanied recitative: "Comfort Ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplish'd, that her iniquity is pardoned." Handel's setting of this text is stunningly beautiful in its simplicity and nakedness. The beautiful E major harmony of the opening is warm and welcoming - the simple flowing eighth note accompaniment figures in the strings are almost like rays of peace and light, upon which the tenor line, floating above with clarion melodic figures, announces a new era of peace and enlightenment. This leads into the exultant opening aria, which proclaims that every valley shall be exalted and every mountain made low, the rough places plain and the crooked straight. It's one of the greatest beginnings in all of western classical music.
Under normal circumstances, I can't help but smile as I hear the opening E major chords of 'Comfort Ye', yet (as everyone on the American Left wisely keeps imploring us all to remember) these are not normal times. They are extraordinary ones: so much so that the dictionary Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2016 is 'surreal'. This year, I feel a great sense of urgency and pleading in my heart as I sing these opening lines of Messiah. My inner subtext wants to be: "enough with the battle cries - can't we all just get along?" "Comfort Ye" wants to mean "Calm the F**k Down." I feel heartbroken when I sing "that her warfare is accomplish'd,", as it seems that no one's warfare is accomplished - it only seems to be escalating along with everyone's temper and intolerance.
I have one more performance of Messiah here in Japan tomorrow afternoon, as well as a Gala Christmas concert this evening before my work is done for the year. As I round out this final chapter of work for 2016, I want to wish everyone the happiest of holidays. This year, I don't just wish - I implore this traditional seasonal greeting: Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards All.
Messiah filmed LIVE at Trinity Wall Street last year (December 26, 2015)