Don Neuen Talks about the Messiah
LOS ANGELES, Calif. When asked for advice on how to prepare for a performance of Handel’s beloved oratorio Messiah – which the Angeles Chorale will present on Saturday, December 10 at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena – Resident Guest Conductor Donald Neuen replied, “To study it till you need Excedrin.”
If Neuen, who over the course of his career has conducted Handel’s masterpiece over 40 times and is renowned for his “historically authentic” presentations of Messiah worldwide, is exaggerating, it isn’t by much.
“One of the problems in Messiah is that people think they know it because it’s done so often. They’ve been hearing it since they were a kid. So conductors think they don’t have to study it with an expert or a scholar,” explains Neuen, who studied the work while on the faculty at the Eastman School of Music with two men whom he describes as knowing “more about the music of Handel than anyone since it was written” – Alfred Mann and Jens Peter Larsen.
“Therefore, they make the same mistakes the conductors they studied under made, and the mistakes just keep rejuvenating themselves,” Neuen continues. “But I learned note by note, for thousands of notes, song by song for 53 songs, exactly how they should go regarding every interpretive thing you could do – how passionate, how tranquil, how loud, how soft, how fast, how slow. Messiah can’t be mushy and gushy. It’s got to be wonderful, spirited, alive, crisp, with quick tempos and dance-like.”
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