FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) –Handel’s Hallelujah chorus has a history of inaugurating buildings and the first annual production of Christmas at Southwestern was no exception. The School of Church Music (SCM) presented John Rutter’s Magnificat and G.F. Handel’s Messiah in the first-ever performance held in the new J.W. MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center dedicated earlier in the day with a chapel worship service.
While the official dedication of London’s Foundling Hospital did not come until 1753, Handel, while raising money to finish construction of the orphanage, presented “Messiah” in 1750 when he inaugurated the organ he donated. The Southwestern Choral Society sang the “Hallelujah” chorus from Messiah during the February 1950 dedication service for Truett Auditorium—the home for chapel services and Messiah performances until the Dec. 1 opening of MacGorman Chapel.
Though Messiah was presented as part of the seminary’s very first production of Christmas at Southwestern, this year’s performance marked the 90th showing of the score at Southwestern, its first being in 1921.
The 270-year-old piece does not seem to have lost any of its poignancy, either. The nearly-full Hale Auditorium in MacGorman Chapel offered hearty applause for Messiah, which the SCM presented in the second portion of the performance after intermission. The Master Chorale and Southwestern Singers and Orchestra performed the piece, featuring soloists Anne Beloncik, Angela Faith Cofer, John Cornish, and J. David Robinson. Conductor David Thye asked the congregation to sing with the choir and orchestra during the “Hallelujah” chorus, which concluded the evening.
Pat and Karen Mondoy of Benbrook said they thoroughly enjoyed the performance and the new venue.
“It is very impressive,” Pat said of the new chapel. “It can handle a lot of events and it could rival Bass Hall in the Fort Worth area for cultural events.”
Karen agreed.
“I just think it is incredible music and glorifying to the Lord,” Karen said. “I’m totally impressed. It is a very, very professional performance.”
The performance included Personent Hodie, Magnificat, Joy to the World, My Dancing Day, on Christmas Day, In the Manger, A Merry Carol of the Bells, Fantasia on Greensleeves, WinterSecret, O Holy Night, and Sing We Now of Christmas Medley with several well-known songs the congregation joined the chorus for, as well as Messiah.
The Children’s Choir, conducted by Professor of Music Ministry John Simons, filled the front of the choir loft during the first half of the production to sing a medley with the men’s chorus.
Sarah Norris, a resident of Canyon Lake, Texas, and a Southwestern alumnus, came to Fort Worth especially for the dedication of the MacGorman chapel and to attend Christmas at Southwestern. She said the evening’s performance was dazzling and musically superb.
“It’s wonderful,” Norris said. “It’s better than any of them that I have been to previously. The musical quality is wonderful.”
Southwestern President Paige Patterson offered a prayer of dedication for the choir and orchestra rehearsal rooms given to the seminary and named for Gerald and Anne Jones and Gary and Kristi Moore, respectively. He prayed that the glory for the building and its events be God’s alone. The two-part performance ran two hours and 45 minutes.