Gladwyne's VoxAmaDeus Is "Rejoicing Greatly" With Handel's Messiah

PHILADELPHIA - Handel’s Messiah has long been much more than music to my ears. In fact, I was initially introduced to the seasonal perennial favorite more than thirty years ago in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Photo: Sharon Kozden

Gladwyne's VoxAmaDeus Is "Rejoicing Greatly" With Handel's Messiah Performances In and Around Philadelphia

Concert MasaSince then, annual attendance at several Messiah performances has become de rigueur–a Christmastime priority for me. There was that one production in a Jersey beach town. Another in a middle-school auditorium. Yet another at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. A musically memorable afternoon in a festively decorated historic mansion in Philly's Fairmount Park marks my “best of” list. Others–too numerous to chronicle–were mostly staged in acoustically captivating church naves.

Bummer about 2020 though, what with public gatherings being limited or altogether shuttered. Some ensembles, which had proudly claimed successive decades sans Messiah performance lapse, were pandemic-forced (much like the employee with an exemplary attendance record) to “call off sick.” Fortunately and thankfully, VoxAmaDeus continued its live performance schedule, albeit with minor pandemic-restrictive challenges. 

Fast forward to the present, where and with utmost certainty, I can confirm the extant silver lining resulting from a performance year that nearly wasn't. I recently experienced it on December 5th at Daylesford Abbey in the Philly suburb of Paoli. Gladwyne’s own VoxAmaDeus, featuring its Ama Deus Ensemble and Baroque Instrument Orchestra (under the expert direction of Valentin Radu, Founder, Conductor, and Artistic Director of VoxAmaDeus), rallied to the abbey’s rafters with an unparalleled return-to-form success while celebrating their 35th concert season. 

It’s true: a looming potential threat of absence makes the harp [sic] grow fonder. With every vibration and vibrato, conductor, soloists, orchestra, chorus and a grateful audience could vibe the resoundingly joyful delivery … maybe in part because of our collectively compromised prior year. And so Bravo! Encore! Hallelujah! And throw in a Glory Be for good measure. Communities are reuniting and sharing the universal language of music. It feels good.

Just prior to the oratorio's opening note, Maestro Radu took to the podium to introduce the “perennially and eternally beautiful Handel’s Messiah” and to announce that the performance’s running time would conclude at two hours without an intermission. Still, we all had a stretch break during the sonorous Hallelujah chorus, as it’s common practice to stand throughout–an uprising tradition purportedly begun in 1743, when King George II was brought to his feet by a rapturous wave of emotion engendered by the stirring music. Many dispute the reason for the king’s upward mobility. Nevertheless, the rising practice continues to this day. I was just glad for the opportunity to give “me bum” pause from sitting at length in a wooden church pew. 

Romanian-born Valentin Radu is a physically robust conductor–exuberant and at times playful–as well as an assured baton wielder. He possesses a unique gesticular flair that is riveting to witness, Like an alchemist, he extracts harmonic gold and, as “messenger for the composer,” he reaps a masterfully mesmerizing and emotive performance from the baroque orchestra, soloists, and chorus. His expansive execution range traverses from nuanced restraint to thundering vigor. Dressed in a blousy white poet’s shirt, a pair of black boho pants tucked into chunky, long-laced, and high-topped boots, Radu owns the bohemian look. He’s the consummate workman, exceptionally skilled at his craft.

Church Concert SK

Conductor Radu and Concertmaster Robert Spates, both virtuosos, share a particularly intense connection. They synthesize notes and melodies akin to longtime friends reuniting to share joyful news and grand camaraderie. Under the baton of Radu, a collaborative effort distills the essential purity of Handel’s Messiah “like a refiner’s fire.” In short, they make beautiful music together. 

The baroque instrument orchestra, talented soloists, and a resplendent chorus similarly deliver the goods. With every shining or potent air, rousing chorus, and oratory recitative, all play and sing their hearts out seemingly effortlessly. I once progressed in my own violin lessons to a faltering, unassured recital of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” so I know the degree of practice, patience, and rehearsal hours logged involved in making any musical effort seem easy-peasy.

Soprano soloist Andrea Lauren Brown delivers a soaring musicality along with a beatific stage presence. While scanning the audience during a particularly affecting piece, I noted the contagiousness of her presence. Many peaceful facial expressions, visually moved, appeared along for the ride, so to speak. Jody Kidwell’s alto is pleasing in its richness; she has been a featured soloist with VoxAmaDeus since 2011. Tenor Timothy Bentch has been deservedly lauded for his "confident and heroic" delivery, and Ed Bara’s deeply resonant bass is superb. Paul Futer’s trumpet shines brilliantly during his vibrant debut.

Two VoxAmaDeus Messiah performances for 2021 remain Friday, December 17th (7:00 p.m.) at St. Mark's Church in Philadelphia and Sunday, December 19th (4:00 p.m.) at St. Katherine of Siena Church in Wayne.

I am tempted to circle back for the December 19th season finale. Join me then in rejoicing greatly or hit the City on the 17th? Come and be gloriously uplifted by this universally loved and celebrated tradition.

For ticket information, or to make a gift in support of this non-profit organization dedicated to bringing live music to Philadelphia and its surrounding communities, please visit View the full Concert Season 35 schedule along with the complete list of recordings by Valentin Radu and VoxAmaDeus. Messiah program cover and Concert Season 35 brochure design and layout were created by Paul Marchesano of VoxAmaDeus.