Musical bridge Ecumenical Concert Unites Communities

When the Portland Chamber Orchestra presents George Frideric Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus” this month, Israeli- born conductor Yaacov Bergman says, “It will take us into our holiday story in a way that portrays Hanukkah vividly.”
The PCO, of which Maestro Bergman has been music director/conductor for a decade, will offer four performances of its ecumenical holiday concert featuring selections from the oratorio “Judas Maccabaeus,” about the Maccabean Revolt of 167 to 160 BCE, and the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah.” While the PCO has presented “Messiah” for the past five years, this will be the first time it has presented an ecumenical concert with both oratorios.
“The intent of this holiday concert was to bring the two stories, and the two faith communities, together,” says Bergman. “The two stories cover the spectrum of the Judeo-Christian reality during those periods. … Presenting the two pieces together creates a sense of brotherhood, which is the most profound reason to come to the event – other than the music itself.”
The music in “Judas” is so evocative and lyrical that Bergman says Handel “stole elements from himself and
used some of the beautiful melodies” in different forms in some of his later work.
While Handel’s “Messiah” is perhaps his best-known and most performed work, “Judas
Maccabaeus” has been Handel’s second most popular oratorio.
“As somebody who loves to conduct ‘Messiah’ annually, personally and as a conductor, I have come to learn
what an artistic masterpiece ‘Judas Maccabaeus’ is,” says
Bergman. “ ‘Judas’ tells the
story of Hanukkah I grew up with,”
Bergman says. Bergman grew
up on an Israeli kibbutz with early musical training in violin and vocal studies. After graduation from the Rubin Academy of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, with majors in conducting and composition, he moved to New York in 1974 for post-graduate studies at the Mannes College of Music. In addition to his current role at PCO, Bergman is also music director/conductor of the Walla Walla Symphony, the Siletz Bay Music Festival in Lincoln City and the McCall SummerFest in Idaho.
During his career he has consistently received notice as an intensely communicative musician.
He uses that communicative style in his work with PCO, which often fuses music with dance, visual arts or themes of the calendar as part of PCO’s mission to bring inclusive music to the audience. His goal to incorporate the dramatic is especially relevant for presenting Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus,” which is much more theatrical than the very liturgical “Messiah.”
“ ‘Judas is a magnificent masterpiece,” Bergman says. “It has a more theatrical flavor that resembles the operas Handel did before he turned to oratorios. He brings in the characters.”
While operas are traditionally sung in Italian or German, the oratorios are sung in English, just one of the features that makes this concert appealing to children as young as 12.
PCO concerts in general are accessible to children, he says, by virtue of the PCO’s intimate venues that bring the audience close to the musicians and performers. Since a chamber orchestra has only 28 to 50 musicians, depending on the program, “We have the ability to really connect.”
Bergman and PCO President Robert Kingdom hope the ecumenical concert becomes an annual tradition that both communities can enjoy year after year.
HANUKKAH/CHRISTMAS CONCERT Presented by: The Portland Chamber Orchestra and the Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland Performances: Dec. 17: 7:30 pm at St. Henry Catholic Church, Gresham Dec. 19: 7:30 pm at St. Matthew Catholic Church, Hillsboro (with the Hillsboro Community Youth Choir) Dec. 20: 7:30 pm at St. Andrew Catholic Church, Portland Dec. 21: 3 pm at Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis and Clark College, Portland Tickets: Adults $25; Seniors 65+ $20; Students $15; Children $5; Group rate (10 or more) $15. portlandchamberorchestra.org or call 503-771-3250

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