The Messiah, under the unconventional Conductorship of Ashiq Aziz by Aurora de Pena

The Knox College chapel is packed. There are actually no seats available 5 minutes before the start of Classical Music Consort’s Messiah. I have to sit in a single plush chair graciously dragged to the back of the church by the door man. People who arrived after I did seemed to have no problems standing.

This was the quietest place that I have ever been, from my solitary spot in the improvised back row, I could hear somebody in the front shift in their seat and take a Kleenex out of their purse.

The Knox College Chapel, built in 1858, is 100 and years younger than the music that echoed off its grey stone walls on Friday night. It is Classical Music Consort’s goal, under the direction of Ashiq Aziz, to give the listener an idea of what Handel’s original Messiah might have sounded like when it premiered in April of 1742. They employ era specific instruments and remain faithful to every Baroque vocal ornament, but there is something undeniably modern about the way these people approach the music that they love. The ensemble, though not entirely informal, is relaxed. Conductor Aziz is athletic and alert, the singers are confidently connected to the music’s text, and the members of the orchestra smile at each other throughout.
This is a simple, clean production. The soloists stand and deliver clear and fresh interpretations of the libretto. Particularly interesting is alto Susanne Hawkins, whose warm and expressive voice draws attention to the intensity of the text. The story, which we all know by heart, can’t help but be touched by the secular world we all live in today. It’s almost deleivered in the third person, which makes The Messiah a really interesting choice for this group.

This very human, very 21rst century atmosphere is prevalent throughout the chapel; people of all ages are completely engaged. The woman sitting directly in front of me (I wish she was my Grandma—seriously) is pushing a cool 80 in a primary coloured Christmas blazer. She knows every inch of the music, and conducts from the back. Beside her are a couple of 25 year olds with bangs who hold hands for the whole three hours. The simplicity of the production lets the composition shine. So many complications in the music, all of the vocal and instrumental gymnastics, become abstract when stripped of their showiness. This is what Classical Music Consort will become recognized for, this dedication to the actual value of the music. There is no attempt to explain why or justify the relevance of playing the music of 300 years ago, and that’s fine, in the hands of this ensemble, it stands on it’s own.
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