On April 22nd at 7:30pm in First Christian Church, the Bloomington Chamber Singers, under the direction of Musical Director Gerald Sousa, presented Haydn’s masterpiece, The Creation. A work of incomparable beauty and a personal statement of Haydn’s deeply religious faith, it reflects a belief in a world that is full of wonder and of a God who created life to be cherished and revered. There are few works in the repertoire that are as cheerful and optimistic as Haydn’s Creation—and from it performers and listeners alike draw joy, inspiration, and meaning.
During his first visit to London in 1791-92, Haydn attended the annual Handel commemoration in Westminster Abbey where he heard over a thousand performers sing Handel’s Messiah and Israel in Egypt. He was transformed by what he heard in Handel’s music, particularly the musical depictions in Israel in Egypt of the buzzing flies, hopping frogs, and violent hailstorms. Over the next few years he became increasingly drawn to composing a work on a similar Biblical scope. It was on his return to England in 1795 that the impresario Johann Solomon handed him a libretto that had been among Handel’s effects at his death. That text, most likely by one of Handel’s authors, combined passages from Genesis and the Psalms with a smattering of Milton’s Paradise Lost into an epic retelling of the story of creation. Haydn was immediately drawn to it, and composed the oratorio between 1797 and 1798, setting it to a German version prepared by his collaborator, Baron Gottfried van Swieten.
The first public performance was held in Vienna in 1799 and was a remarkable success. The Creation was performed more than forty times in Vienna during Haydn's lifetime: in addition, performances were mounted throughout Austria, Germany, and England, in Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Russia and the United States.
The oratorio is structured in three parts. The first deals with the creation of light, of heaven and earth, of the sun and moon, of the land and water, and of plants. The second treats the creation of the animals, and of man and woman. The final part describes Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, portraying an idealized love in harmony with the "new world.”
BCS previously performed the work in 1990; it was Music Director Gerald Sousa’s first major concert with the ensemble that he has now led for 26 years.
Here is the review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:
Reviews: Chamber singers and university singers convey joyful, holy sounds
By Peter Jacobi | H-T Reviewer | firstname.lastname@example.org | April 24, 2017
How about that Haydn!They call him Father of the Symphony and Father of the String Quartet. They speak of him as a major influence on Mozart and Beethoven. And as one listened to a performance of his oratorio “The Creation” on Saturday evening, the thought struck: Haydn was a true citizen of the Enlightenment.
His outlook on life must have been positive, optimistic, cheerful. Listening to “The Creation,” the text prepared for the oratorio by Gottfried van Swieten, the music Haydn attached to the words, one is enveloped by an ebullience that expresses faith, hope and love. One leaves the venue in which it is performed — in this case, Bloomington’s First Christian Church — with a smile, having been surrounded for close to two hours with joyful music: music that says God is good, the creation of the Earth is good, nature is good, the introduction of humankind into this stupendous act of breathing life into the cosmos is good.
Of course, a score of such breadth and length requires a performance that stresses jubilance, embodies artistic belief and features musical excellence. All that came to be, what with the Bloomington Chamber Singers and their longtime conductor, Gerald Sousa, at the center of the action. When Sousa and his chorus are involved in a project, one has come to expect high quality, and high quality there was, not only from his carefully trained community choir but from the five soloists he chose and from the orchestra he put together.
Maestro Sousa often stimulates his musicians to work beyond expectation. That he did once again on Saturday. The chorus sang with superb clarity, with solidity and beauty of tone. When “the heavens proclaim the glory of God,” the singers did proclaim. When the libretto stated that “the Lord is great,” the statement rang gloriously. When, at oratorio’s end, the chorus is asked, “Sing to the Lord, all voices,” the voices surely did.
So, too, when light came out of darkness and chaos, the orchestra established brilliant light, thanks to score and performance. When there were birds or creatures or waves or meadows or sun or moon, the orchestra dutifully and impressively shaped Haydn’s sounds.
Praise must go also to the five soloists, each successfully selected, each a major contributor to the whole of the presentation. As the three angels — Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel — baritone Christopher Burchett, tenor John Punt and soprano Ashley Valentine added drama to the performance. So did bass-baritone Rafael Porto and soprano Eunji Kim as they vocally portrayed Adam and Eve.
All the elements worked. “The Creation” proved an auspicious way for the Bloomington Chamber Singers to conclude their 47th season.