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Mozart’s ‘Messiah’ part of Oak Park concert programs

Handel Week begins Feb.16 Grace Episcopal Church Oak Park.

Handel Week begins Feb.16 at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park.

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Handel Week, 3 p.m. Feb. 16; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22; and 3 p.m. March 2. Grace Episcopal Church, 924 Lake St., Oak Park. $30-$45. Visit

This is the 15th year that Grace Episcopal Church will present Handel Week in Oak Park. The first in 2000 was envisioned by organist Dennis Northway as the western suburb’s answer to the long-running Bach Week in Evanston.

“We have succeeded in making it a part of cultural life here,” said Northway, artistic director of Handel Week and parish musician at Grace Episcopal Church. “And we really have something special for our audience this year — Mozart’s ‘Messiah.’ ”

Mozart’s “Messiah?”

Yes, the single work on the Feb. 16 opening program is Mozart’s adaptation of Handel’s most famous work, commissioned by Baron Gottfried von Swieten of Austria in 1789, a diplomat and a patron of the arts to whom Beethoven dedicated his First Symphony. The Baron had become acquainted with Handel during a posting in London and when he returned to Vienna, he asked Mozart to create a version suitable for performances in private concerts.

“All choruses are intact,” Northway said. “Tenor parts are sang by sopranos. It is a meeting of two great composers from two great periods, the Baroque and the Classical. The result is pure musical magic.”

It will be performed by the Handel Week Festival Choir and orchestra, with soloists Kimberly McCord, Amy Anderson de Jong, Gerald Frantzen and Noah Gartner. And fear not, though Mozart utilized a German translation, “Messiah” will be sung in its original English in Oak Park.

The concert on Feb. 22 is titled “The Intimate Handel” and comes with an array of the composer’s sonatas and cantatas. “Handel wrote more than a hundred secular cantatas,” the director explained, “and some don’t sound like Handel. We’ll have songs about unattainable love, pastoral songs.”

Soprano will be Elena Batman, with oboist Deb Stevenson and cellist Richard Yeo playing basso continuo. “Elena and I were colleagues in the Grant Park Chorus,” Northway said. “She has a fresh, beautiful voice.”

The March 2 concert is a repeat of the first concert produced by Handel Week in 2000. Northway calls it maximum impact music and indeed some of the works are familiar to classical music fans: “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” “Zadok the Priest,” “The King Shall Rejoice,” and “Te Deum for the Peace of Dettingen.” The Handel Week Chorus will sing for this program, accompanied by a full orchestra, with baritone Philip Kraus and mezzo-soprano Michelle Wrighte as soloists.

“We promise to get you out in time for the Oscars,” Northway said.

Handel Week is the only organization in Chicago dedicated to the music of George Frideric Handel. Conceived 15 years ago by its founders, Northway and Charles Chauncey Wells, it was originally held in May.

“But May was a busy month,” remembered Wells, “so after two years we changed our program to February. Nothing was going on then.”

Though February is now a busy musical month, Handel Week has established itself as a significant part of the late winter music scene. “This is where it belongs,” the co-founder declared. “Handel’s birthday is in February. Besides, Grace Episcopal has such wonderful acoustics with its windows closed and sometimes in May the church got very warm and we had to open the windows. There’s not much chance of that happening in February or early March — especially this year.”

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