The Messiah(s) / Messiah Reimagined project was originally commissioned by the New York City Master Chorale, and premiered by the Manhattan School of Music Chamber Orchestra and soloists in December 2018. Emily Lau wrote brand new solo movements, with texts from inspirational figures from all walks of life, for Part I of Handel's Messiah. This work is meant to be performed with Handel's original choral parts as a cohesive concert offering. The celebratory and inventive marriage of the two works was well-received at the premiere by performers, audience, and patrons who find the work beautiful, inspirational, and accessible.
I think of this project as an opportunity to write a companion to Handel’s masterwork, so that it can be more inclusive and moving to a diverse audience today. The text, the harmony, and the orchestration in the solo movements are all brand-new. But I took care to fit these new movements, both harmonically and structurally, into Handel’s original milieu. Intended to be performed as a cohesive piece with Handel's original choral movements, these brand new solo movements breathe life and possibilities into this timeless classic.
The single most important focus of this work for me has been curating a new set of texts for the solo movements, choosing words that bring inspiration and unity in today’s world, regardless of one’s religious or cultural background. This process brings me enormous joy, and is part of my life’s work. I chose words by inspirational people from all walks of life, ancient and contemporary, that best reflect the diversity of today’s American ethos. There are words by Buddha, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr, Sojourner Truth, John Muir, Chief Seattle, and more.
As with Handel's original work, this collection of music will work particularly well with soloists and orchestras that understand and celebrate baroque performance practice. While the orchestra part I wrote is not particularly virtuosic, the solo movements would best suit professional-level singers with range, agility, and rhetorical gift.
Audio samples from the premiere:
ii. Accompanied Recitative: If all the beasts were gone (tenor solo)
"If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to beasts soon would happen to men." Ted Perry, inspired by Chief Seattle
iii. Aria: The beauty of the trees (tenor solo)
"The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me.
The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dew drop on the flower, speaks to me.
The strength of fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away,
They speak to me. and my heart soars." Chief Dan George
v. Accompanied Recitative: Feelings of heat and cold (bass solo)
"Feelings of heat and cold, pleasure or pain, are caused by the contact of the senses with their objects. They come
and they go, never lasting long. You must accept them."
Bhagavad Gita VYASA (ca. 400 BCE-200 CE)
vi. Aria: Just as with her own life (alto solo)
"Just as with her own life, a mother shields from hurt -
her own son, her only child.
Let all-embracing thoughts for all beings be yours."
the Khuddakapāṭha Mettā Sutta
ix. Aria: Let children walk with nature (alto solo)
"Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life,
their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our
blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave
has no victory, for it never fights.” John Muir
x. Recitative: Some do not understand (bass solo)
"Some do not understand that we must die,
But those who know that settle their quarrels."
from Yammakavagga: "The Pairs" (verse 6)
SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA (c. 563 – c. 483 BCE)