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National Philharmonic Celebrates the Season With Handel's MESSIAH

National Philharmonic Celebrates the Season With Handel's MESSIAH

The National Philharmonic celebrates the holiday season with the largest presentation of "Hallelujah! Handel's Messiah" in the Washington area on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 22 at 3 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore, which will be decorated in holiday trimmings.

The chorus and orchestra of nearly 200 are joined for the first time by eight talented local high school singers. First premiered in 1741, George Frideric Handel's Messiah is one of the most iconic holiday classical selections of all time. The epic oratorio will be performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale and conducted by Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, who will be joined by internationally acclaimed soprano Esther Heideman, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór, tenor Matthew Smith, and baritone Hunter Enoch in this moving holiday favorite.

The musical masterpiece was originally an Easter offering and became a Christmas production in the 19th century. It has been performed continually since its composition 277 years ago. The concert will feature such timeless highlights as "And the Glory of the Lord" and the "Hallelujah Chorus," as well as "Bass Aria - The Trumpet Shall Sound," performed by National Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpeter Chris Gekker. The Washington Post calls these performances "phenomenal."

A pre-concert lecture will take place 6:45-7:15 p.m. on Saturday, and 1:45-2:15 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket prices are $29-$69, free for young people 7-17. There is a new 25% discount for military and veterans. Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 301.581.5100.

"This year we are joined by high school choral scholars from across Montgomery County, who are singing this work for the first time. It is wonderful to see these generations performing side by side as we build our choral legacy, passing the experience of Messiah on to future generations in Montgomery County." Said Stan Engebretson, National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director.

The high school choral scholars program draws eight singers from local schools, including Montgomery Blair, Northwood, Wheaton, Sherwood, Richard Montgomery, and St. Mary's Ryken.

German-born Handel (1685-1759) composed Messiah in an impressive 24 days. Statistics have placed the total number of notes in the oratorio at approximately a quarter of a million, which means Handel would have to write an average of 15 notes per minute, for 10 hours straight every day. The London premiere of Messiah took place at Covent Garden on March 23, 1743, almost a full year after the Dublin premiere. It was performed as an Easter offering until it was adapted in the 19th century as a Christmas season performance in England and the United States. Legend has it that, during the "Hallelujah" chorus, King George II was so moved that he stood up, even though there is no evidence that he was ever present at that or any other performance of the oratorio. Since then, nevertheless, a tradition was established (mentioned for the first time in 1756) of standing during this portion of the oratorio. Handel gave a total of 36 performances of Messiah from 1742 to 1759, the year of his death. His fondness for Messiah is also attested by the fact that, eight days before he died, frail and blind, he insisted upon attending its performance at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.


Esther Heideman, soprano

Heideman's career began at Carnegie Hall singing Handel's Messiah. Since then, she has performed with major orchestras throughout the world, such as the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2000, Heideman won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Licia Albanese Competition, followed by her 2001 Metropolitan Opera debut singing as Pamina in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. In addition to performing the staples of traditional concert repertoire, such as Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Heideman has been featured prominently in the premieres of some of today's most respected contemporary composers, including performing in the role of Jenny Lind in Libby Larsen's opera Barnum's Bird.

Magdalena Wór, mezzo-soprano

Polish-born Wór is often praised by music critics and fans alike for the rich color of her voice and her vocal flexibility, which allows her to sing low and high mezzo repertoire, spanning Baroque through the 21st Century. Of Wór's debut in Madama Butterfly with Virginia Opera, Anne Midgette of The Washington Post wrote, "Magdalena Wór almost stole the show as a well-defined and well-sung Suzuki." In 2016, Wór debuted with the Seattle Symphony as a soloist for their performances of Handel's Messiah. She portrayed Maddalena in Opera Birmingham's Rigoletto and performed with the National Philharmonic in Bach's Mass in B minor and Handel's Messiah. In 2011-2012, Wór performed in Carmen for Lyric Opera of Virginia, Handel's Messiah with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Alabama Symphony Orchestra, was a soloist for Leoš Janáček's Glagolitic Mass with the Cathedral Choral Society of the Washington National Cathedral, Bach's Magnificat with the National Philharmonic, and gave recitals at the Polish and Hungarian Embassies in Washington, D.C.

Matthew Smith, tenor
Smith has performed with ensembles including the Washington Bach Consort, the Cathedral Choral Society, and the Washington Concert Opera. He received the Carmel Bach Festival's Adams Fellowship in 2008, and was a finalist in the 2002 San Francisco Opera Center auditions and a semifinalist in the 2005 Montreal International Musical Competition. Smith currently serves with the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants in Washington, DC, where they perform at the White House, with the National Symphony Orchestra, for nationally televised events including the funeral of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, and on tours across the United States.

Hunter Enoch, baritone

Hunter Enoch, baritone, is originally from Paris, Tennessee. He is currently a member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at Washington National Opera. This season he will be seen as Il Conte Almaviva in the Young Artist performance of Le Nozze di Figaro, a Corporal in The Daughter of the Regiment, ADC in The Dictator's Wife, Motorcycle Cop and First Guard in Dead Man Walking, and Sharpless in the Young Artist performance of Madame Butterfly at WNO. Hunter has worked with the Glimmerglass Festival, Virginia Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Cincinnati Opera, Seattle Opera, Chautauqua Opera and Wolf Trap Opera.

Chris Gekker, trumpet

Chris Gekker is Professor of Trumpet at the University of Maryland, School of Music, and has been a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. The New York Times praised his "bright virtuosity" and described his playing as "clear toned and pitch perfect." Gekker appears as soloist on more than 30 recordings and on more than 100 chamber music, orchestral, and jazz recordings. CD Review called his recording of Copland's Quiet City "a model of quiet perfection" and in an overview of several solo recordings, Gramophone Magazine described his performances as "astonishingly poised." Of his recording of Eric Ewazen's Sonata for Trumpet,Piano American Record Guide states "Ewazen writes that he had Gekker's sound in his mind when he wrote the Sonata, and I can understand why. It is round, soft edged, and gorgeous at soft dynamic levels, and always full and well controlled at fortissimo." Gekker is one of the featured artists on Deutsche Gramophone's 2005 compilation "Masters of the Trumpet."


Stan Engebretson has served as the Artistic Director of the National Philharmonic Chorale since its inception. In addition to the Chorale at Strathmore, Engebretson has appeared on concert stages throughout the United States and in Europe, Asia, and Australia. He has studied with great masters of choral music including Robert Shaw, Gregg Smith, Roger Wagner and Eric Ericson, Conductor Emeritus of the world-renowned Swedish Radio Choir in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2018, he co-edited a new book in Germany, "Hallelujah! Spirituals and Gospels for European Choirs." And this year he received the J. Reilly Lewis Ovation award for Outstanding Contributions to Choral Music. Presented by Choralis, this prestigious honor marks his almost three decades of choral leadership in the Metropolitan Washington, DC area.

In July 2003, the National Chamber Orchestra and Masterworks Chorus merged to create the National Philharmonic, an ensemble with more than 50 years of combined history, bringing high-caliber musical performances to the Washington area. The National Philharmonic took up residence at the state-of-the-art Music Center at Strathmore upon its opening in February 2005.

Now, more than 250 performances later, and with far-reaching educational programming, the National Philharmonic is the largest and most active professional orchestra based in Montgomery County. It is also the only classical music organization in the Washington-Metro area that offers free tickets for children ages 7-17. The National Philharmonic recognizes this young audience as the classical music lovers of the future, and hopes to encourage future generations of concertgoers through this free-ticket program.

A February 24, 2019, review in The Washington Post by Patrick Rucker notes the National Philharmonic's "distinctive personality," adding, "The vibe in the audience is that everybody onstage is happy, and maybe a little proud to be there, and the music sounds that way." In fact, National Philharmonic's "distinctive personality" is part and parcel of the world-class acoustics of the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert hall, orchestra and chorale together create this world-class sound. The National Philharmonic's Strathmore Concert Hall home is an integral component of its artistic success. In fact, it is because of this success that the Philharmonic was recently recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts.

As the Music Center at Strathmore's orchestra-in-residence, the National Philharmonic showcases world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces conducted by Maestro Gajewski, and monumental choral masterworks under National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson.

National Philharmonic recently announced its "Thank You for Serving Program" for all active duty military, reservists, and veterans and their families. Military personnel may buy tickets for any National Philharmonic performance for themselves and their family and receive 25% off using promo code THX25. Tickets must be picked up at the box office with Military ID. Other restrictions apply.

To purchase tickets for the performances and for information about the Philharmonic's upcoming season, please visit or call the Strathmore Ticket Office at 301.581.5100.

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