Interfaith Council gets a Handel on things |

Interfaith Council gets a Handel on things

Jonathan Griffith, guest conductor of the Park City Interfaith CouncilÕs ÒMessiahÓ sing-along, is no stranger to the famous Handel work. Each year he leads his own orchestra in a presentation called ÒMessiahÉ Refreshed!Ó (Courtesy of Distinguished Concerts International, New York)
DCINY, Messiah…Refreshed!

Last spring, the Park City Interfaith Council presented its first "Messiah" community sing-along at the Eccles Center and the feedback was music to Rob Harter’s ears.

"More than 600 people showed up and the we had all of these people tell us how much they enjoyed hearing the music and singing along," said Harter, executive director of the Christian Center of Park City and member of the Park City Interfaith Council. "So, we decided to do it again and hope more people show up."

This year’s sing-along will be held on Sunday, March 20, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, beginning at 7 p.m. The event is free is open to the public, but donations will be accepted.

The concert will feature an array of guest artists, according to Harter.

Heidi J. Alley, the organist for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, will be accompanist and the four soloists will be: contra-alto Doris Brunatti, who has sung with the Utah Symphony and the major symphonies in St. Petersburg and Moscow; soprano Debra Cook, who is the co-founder of the Utah Conservatory; tenor Bob Breault, known for his work with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Utah Symphony; and baritone Robert Brandt, a competitor in the 15th International Robert Schumann Competition in Zwickau, Germany.

The performance will be guest conducted by Jonathan Griffith, co-founder and artistic director of Distinguished Concerts International, New York (DCINY), a nonprofit that uses experience and education to change lives through the power of performance.

DCINY orchestra has been recognized by the American Prize, an honor that celebrates American excellence in the arts, two consecutive years.

Griffith got involved with the sing-along through Debra Cook, whom he has known for 30 years.

"I was the chorus master for the Utah Opera production of ‘Turandot’ in 1986 when Debra sang the role of Liú," Griffith said. "We stayed in touch off and on over the years and reconnected through Doris Brunatti a year ago."

Brunatti has performed as a soloist with DCINY on a couple of occasions.

"Debra told me about the Interfaith performance they did last year and asked if I would be interested in coming to do a workshop with the Park City High School choir students and then return in the spring to lead the ‘Messiah,’" Griffith said. "I was happy to."

Griffith is familiar with Handel’s "Messiah" to the point where DCINY annually performs what is known as "Messiah Refreshed!"

"In 1959, Sir Eugene Goossens was commissioned by Thomas Beecham to reorchestrate ‘Messiah’ for a full symphony orchestra," Griffith said. "It was recorded and performed once in Lucerne, Switzerland, before parts of the score were lost until 1999."

Griffith spent many hours searching for those missing parts.

"I contacted the Royal Philharmonic librarian, who had no idea where the parts were and I even contacted Sir Eugene Goossens’ sister who was a harpist for the London Philharmonic, but to no avail," he said.

One day, the librarian called and said the parts had been found.

"Lady Beecham had them all the time and was planning to sell them to Sterling College," Griffith said. "That’s when the keeper of the Goossens Estate stepped forward and informed Lady Beecham that the copyright belonged to the Goossens Estate."

After some legal wrangling, the judge determined that the Goossens Estate did own the copyright.

"The keeper of the estate then gave me permission for DCINY to perform the United States premiere of this work and we have performed it many times at Thanksgiving," Griffith said. "We’ve done five years of concerts featuring singers from all over the world and the last three years have been sold out.

"Incidentally, some of the singers from the Interfaith Council Choir will have the opportunity to fly to New York and sing with us at Carnegie Hall in November," he said.

One reason for the piece’s popularity is of course the story, which depicts the prophecy and the birth of Christ, according to Griffith.

"Another thing is that it’s done with a great deal of variety," he said. "It’s not just choral or soloists. It is accessible to amateur singers and enjoyed by professional singers. It’s suitable for high school, college and adult singers.

The variety also lies in the way the instrumentation can be performed.

"When I do it in New York, I do it with the full 70-piece orchestra," Griffith said. "Then this past winter I did it with baroque instrumentation in Guatemala and when we do it in Park City, it will be done with an organist.

"And yet, the beauty of the music is never diminished by whatever accompaniment there is," he said. "The music still elevates the words to a level that speaks to the people. In fact, you don’t have to understand the words to enjoy the message."

The Park City "Messiah" sing-along was conceived by the Park City Interfaith Council, which features representatives from every faith in Park City, including St. Mary’s Catholic Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Mountain Life Church, Temple Har Shalom, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Christian Center of Park City, according to Harter.

"We all wanted to create something for the community that would bring together people from a variety of backgrounds," he said. "We knew people love music and Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is one of those pieces that is well recognized."

The idea to perform the "Messiah" in the spring gets back to the piece’s roots.

"That’s when Handel originally wrote it," Harter said. "It was more of an Easter piece. Ironically, American culture switched things around and made it a Christmas thing.

"When people file into the auditorium, we’ll hand out scores so people can follow along and sing-along if they want," he said. "So, people can sit back and listen or engage in the sing-a-long segments as well."

The Park City Interfaith Council, along with the Christian Center of Park City, will presents a special "Messiah" sing-along concert on Sunday, March 20, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., at 7 p.m. Refreshments will follow. The event is free, but donations will be accepted. For more information, visit

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