Performing Arts

Messiah goes to Bomas concert


The Nairobi Music Society and Nairobi Orchestra during their joint practice session. PHOTO | POOL

“I think I did see heaven open, and the very face of God,” German-born composer George Handel was quoted by his assistant as describing his feelings when he completed the Hallelujah chorus of his greatest work Messiah.

The Messiah is an oratorio (musical composition based on a religious theme for orchestra, choir and soloists) written in 1741 by Handel, and first performed in Dublin, Ireland, in April 1742.

This choral work that celebrates the life, death and resurrection of Christ has become one of the best known and most frequently performed pieces in Western music.

Handel who was then living in London, composed the work that celebrates the prophesy of the birth of Christ; his sacrifice for humankind; and his Resurrection in 24 days in August -September 1741, during which he barely slept or ate.

So popular is this musical work that it has continued to awe listeners more than 250 years after the composer’s death.

A joint choir comprising hundreds of singers belonging to various choirs in Nairobi accompanied by the Nairobi Orchestra, will perform this enduring composition of classical music, at a special charity concert called “Voices for Hospices” at the Bomas of Kenya on Saturday.

The idea started in the 1980s when a palliative care unit in London held a concert to raise funds and public awareness for their service. By October 2005, that one event had grown into over 500 simultaneous concerts, for over 400 hospice and palliative care services, in more than 60 countries.

The event is now a wave of simultaneous concerts around the world which take place leading up to World Hospice and Palliative Care Day on 8 October.


The Nairobi Music Society and Nairobi Orchestra during their joint practice session. PHOTO | POOL

In Kenya, the mass choir and orchestra come together to perform Handel’s Messiah to raise funds and awareness for hospice and palliative care. The proceeds from the concert go towards equipping the inpatient and chemotherapy unit of the Nairobi Hospice.

The Nairobi Music Society and the Nairobi Orchestra and various choirs numbering more than 400 singers, will be conducted by Dr Duncan Wambugu.

“It is challenging, but exciting to have all these voices singing together and to watch the whole performance come together,” says Dr Wambugu who is conducting the concert for the third time, after previous stints in 2005 and 2018.

He points out that this is the first classical concert of this magnitude taking place in Nairobi since the pandemic. “You can do a concert virtually but there is an energy derived from an audience that cannot be replaced,” he says.

He recalls his first ever performance of Messiah as a young high school boy in the 1990s singing a tenor solo and says that one of the outstanding features of the piece is the number of soloists, from sopranos to tenors, who offer such beauty to the music.

“This is one of the most popular and accessible compositions of all time,” he says about Messiah. “The audience will find the experience enjoyable if you are hearing it for the first time, if you have heard it 100 times before, it will sound different from the last time you heard it. It is mesmerizing”

According to the conductor, it was not an exaggeration for Handel to describe the feeling of the heavens opening up when Hallelujah chorus was complete. “The music is appealing to people of all ages. Even my 4-year-old daughter sings the Hallelujah chorus,” says Wambugu.

“It is extraordinary, from the opening Overture to the closing chorus of Worthy Is the Lamb," he adds. The choirs have each been rehearsing separately, and will then get together with the orchestra to have a run through the programme before tomorrow’s performance.

Among the soloists include Mercy Wambugu (soprano), Evans Wanga (bass), May Ombara (Alto), Mariah Gichu (soprano). Anthony Mwangi who sings a baritone solo says a soloist must convey every emotion of the music to the audience.

“My responsibility is to express the mood of the music and to transport the audience to that place,” says Mwangi. “Handel has a lot of colour and we have to express that colour so that the audience can understand what the music is saying.”

The soloists also include newcomers from the University of Nairobi, Technical University, Kabarak University and Nairobi

The Nairobi Music Society will be joined by choirs from St. Andrew’s Church, the St Paul’s Catholic Church, St Barnabas Church, Our Lady of Consolata Cathedral, Nairobi School, and the Safaricom Choir.

Tickets for the concert cost Sh1,000 shillings for adults and Sh500 for children and will be available at the Bomas of Kenya.

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