The Kennedy Center Concert Hall was the place to be on Wednesday, December 20. That is, if you had a ticket. A sold-out crowd filled the hall as The National Symphony Orchestra celebrated the 25th anniversary of Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. It was the first time the album was performed live and producer Mervyn Warren (who co-produced the 1992 with Quincy Jones) pulled out all the stops, creating new, orchestral arrangements for the night’s performance
When it made its debut in 1992, the Grammy® and Dove award–winning album was a star-studded affair with some of the biggest musical names. Mervyn Warren continued in the same vein with this performance. Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration was filled with some of the biggest names in gospel and other musical genres. It even boasted Broadway stars and Tony winners, Billy Porter and Jennifer Holiday. NSO Pops conductor Steve Reineke, as always, did an outstanding job, reinforcing why he is one of the best pops conductors.
Gospel top names were there: BeBe Winans, CeCe Winans, TAKE 6, The Clark Sisters, Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond, Deitrick Haddon. Rounding out the star-studded cast was Kelly Price, Chante Moore, Sheléa, Janice Chandler-Eteme, Nnenna Freelon, and The Steven Ford Singers. They brought Handel’s original oratorio to in both a rousing and reverent way.
Although the songs have a contemporary, eclectic flair that tap into gospel, jazz and other genres, Warren keeps the focus on using each artists vocals to translate this centuries-old treasure to a modern-day audience. He maintains all of the fervor and excitement that caught music lovers by storm some 25 years ago.
BeBe Winans added some comic relief before he gave a beautiful interpretation of “Why Do the Nations So Furiously Rage?” He joked that the song was out of the norm for him and that he wanted a standing ovation when he finished. The audience gladly obliged after his top-notch delivery that had them foot tapping and head nodding.
A highlight for many gospel music fans was Marvin Sapp and Fred Hammond taking the stage with the phenomenal acapella group, TAKe 6. For those longing for a Commissioned reunion, seeing at least two of the members together on stage was a bonus in the midst of the euphoric feeling one can get from a TAKE 6 performance.
CeCe Winans delivered on “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” It seems as though any song CeCe sings, is made even more beautiful with her authenticity as she intones each verse.
The night ended as each artist returned to the stage for the “Hallelujah” chorus. It was a majestic moment with the audience on their feet, swaying and joining in the chorus. It was a wonderful ending to a night of glorious music, reminding us why we fell in love with Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration twenty-five years ago.