By Colin Roshak
From holiday revelry to masterpieces of the choral repertoire — starting this weekend, the Anchorage Concert Chorus’ season has something for everyone. In their first concert of the year, the ACC presents Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
Mendelssohn got his start as a young prodigy and quickly built a successful career, like many in his time, as both a concert pianist and composer. His most enduring legacy, however, is his discovery of the work of Bach, whose music had since fallen out of fashion. Mendelssohn spent much of his life studying and promoting Bach’s work and in the end, Bach’s unique musical style became a titanic influence on Mendelssohn.
‘Elijah’ is an homage to Bach’s most famous oratorio, ‘St. Mathew’s Passion’. The form and intricate counterpoint of Elijah share a common ancestor in Bach, but Mendelssohn infuses the story of the Biblical prophet with richer, more contemporary early romantic harmonies and orchestration.
In much of Bach’s writing, harmonies change subtly, sometimes with only a single note in the harmony changing over a whole measure or phrase. This contributes to the smoothness and perpetual forward motion in much of Bach’s writing. By contrast, Mendelssohn was writing in a time when western harmony was far more established and he was allowed a greater palette of harmonies and sounds to work with.
In keeping with the tradition of Baroque oratorio and despite the richer, early romantic language, Elijah is a work driven by narrative. While the music itself is undoubtedly genius, there is a homogeneity to it and Mendelssohn never departs from the musical oratorio world that his predecessors built. What sets each new section apart isn’t the shift in musical tone so much as the text and the story.
The ACC production will feature local Alaskan talents with Kyle Gantz, Kara Guggenmos, Keith Kenley and Emily Riedel singing solo roles in addition to the full orchestra and choir.
Elijah is the consummate of orchestral choral works. The piece navigates between moments of agony, moments of passion and moments of sincere devotion. The final “amen” arrives inevitably and with the weight of resolving the entire two hour plus work on it’s shoulders. With Elijah, Mendelssohn tried to replicate the work of his greatest teacher in Bach, and produced a piece of unique complexity and beauty that cemented him as one of the foremost composers of his day.
The Anchorage Concert Chorus presents Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah on Saturday, October 12 at 8pm in the Atwood Concert Hall. Tickets are available at CenterTix.com.