Never too much ‘Messiah’ for Canberra

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“LIKE ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ only much more dignified” is how one daring critic described Handel’s “Messiah”, the most performed piece of choral music ever written.

Tenor Christopher Lincoln Bogg
Tenor Christopher Lincoln Bogg

After a smash hit premiere in Dublin 1742, “Messiah” almost sank without a trace, but when Handel revived it for his second benefit concert for the Foundling Hospital in 1750, it began a tradition of annual charity performances that sealed its reputation. 270 years later, Canberra Choral Society members are saying, people still rave about it.

And of course there are traditions, like the one everybody knows about – you’re supposed to stand to stand up for the Hallelujah chorus, and it’s for Christmas, even though it is more about death than birth. And so on.

Tobias Cole - photo by Peter Hislop
Tobias Cole – photo by Peter Hislop

Canberra Choral Society’s director Tobias Cole is determined to take a fresh look at “Messiah”.

Why, he asks, does a religious work written in 1741 still appeal to audience in our more secular age, over 270 years later? According to Christopher Lincoln Bogg, the Canberra-raised tenor who has been singing in “Messiah” since he was very young, “’Messiah’ is like ‘The Sound of Music’, an enduring favourite that fills you with the urge to sing.” When he was aged nine he heard his mum, the noted Canberra singing teacher Lois Bogg, singing alto soloist in “Messiah” at Canberra’s St Philip’s Church, and found it mesmerising. “During the concert, somebody smashed into the organist’s car and nobody noticed,” he says.

He’ll be joining Rachael Duncan, Veronica Thwaites-Brown and Andrew Fysh as a soloist onstage in Llewellyn Hall for CCS’s “Messiah” on December 12. But the stage won’t be big enough, Cole says, explaining, “’Messiah’ is so popular that even the expansive stage of Llewellyn Hall could not fit all the singers who wanted to be part of this performance.”

With that in mind, he’ll have a gallery choir of high school students, and is threatening to involve the audience in more than just standing up. Of course the choir of over 220 voices will be supported by an orchestra drawn from across Canberra’s musical institutions, including the ADFA Band, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, staff, students and graduates from the ANU School of Music, in the early stages of professional careers.

Part of Canberra Choral Society, photo Hou Leong
Part of Canberra Choral Society, photo Hou Leong

The question of why “Messiah” is so popular will be explored in a panel discussion titled “Why Messiah?” where Cole together joins co-founder of Coro Chamber Ensemble Paul Eldon in Muse café, East Hotel Kington at 3.30pm this Sunday, September 6. Coro recently received a Critics’ Circle award for their performance of the 1742 version of Messiah in July this year and is in a good position to tell us all why you can’t have too much “Messiah”.

Handel’s “Messiah,” presented by the Canberra Choral Society, Llewellyn Hall 7.30pm Saturday December 12, bookings to

“Why Messiah?” panel discussion, Muse, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston, 3.30pm Sunday December 6. Bookings to



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