Reflections on “Elijah” from a humble ‘back-row’ chorister

The stories from the life of “Elijah” with the drama and awful power of ancient Judaic history, and the music, in its complexity and baroque/Victorian richness, move from moments of trembling awe, to those of utter serenity.
Allegri Choir Rehearsal Image

After over 40 years of presenting fine choral music to audiences in Bathurst and the region, Allegri Singers are venturing into hitherto unexplored territory.

Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” presents challenges on a number of levels.

Firstly – there’s a lot of it!  Numerous choruses of complex music, not to mention fitting the words to the notes! Fortunately, we’re singing in English, not German! Still, plenty to learn and polish for all involved.

Then there’s the scale of the work – large choir, full orchestra, sundry vocal soloists. The logistics alone are somewhat daunting, and compound to demand a significant budget, especially for an amateur, largely self-funded choir, which has to enlist the forces of a professional orchestra.

Finally – how to get people to share in this musical experience? The first challenge, of course, is to sell the idea to the choir.

Musical Director, William Moxey, has been leading the choir for the last 17 years or so.  His experience as a professional singer, voice tutor and choral director have combined to inspire the choir in their aspirations to always improve their performance and expand their repertoire.  Bill has led the choir through a wide range of classical and sacred works, from Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi, and into wonderful contemporary works such as Carl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man”. These have alternated with programs of lighter works including traditional songs, show songs and old favourites from many periods.

Bill has long wished to lead the choir in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s wonderful oratorio, “Elijah”, and rehearsals are now in full swing. This is a challenging musical task, but Bill’s infectious enthusiasm has been leading the choir through the initial difficulties of rehearsal, and even the sceptics have begun to warm to the work, as early cacophonies begin to morph into the sounds of music intended by the composer.

So, with the confident assumption that the final result would have met and even exceeded the composer’s expectations, the next challenge is to sell it to audiences!

This is a work that can be appreciated on more than one level. For those familiar with the Judaeo/Christian story, “Elijah” is a lush, hugely dramatic choral portrayal of an intense time in the distant past of Israel’s history as recorded in the Bible (1 Kings 17–19 & 2 Kings 1–2). To modern ears, parts of this story will be dramatic, intense and challenging. The roiling, chaotic back and forth challenges between the protagonists are key elements to the story and sets the scene for a life and death showdown between those who follow the God of Israel and the gods of the nations – who is greatest is the question? Even though there are undoubtedly some deep thought provoking moments in the oratorio (dealing with themes of severe judgement), the underlying theme of the story was a clarion call for people to observe the Divine in a way not previously revealed. The story is as complex and challenging as Mendelssohn’s music itself, absolutely beautiful.

For those who know and love Mendelssohn’s work, and this one in particular, we just have to let them know it’s happening, and they’ll come running.

For other lovers of fine music, unfamiliar with the work, what can we say? The stories from the life of “Elijah” with the drama and awful power of ancient Judaic history, and the music, in its complexity and baroque/Victorian richness, move from moments of trembling awe, to those of utter serenity.

So, if you’re Judaeo/Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or of no religious persuasion at all,  Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” is a force to be reckoned with, and its earth-shaking performances will have a profound impact on all those involved.

As a humble, back-row chorister, I’ve had many uplifting musical experiences, including the life-changing performances of Carl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, but Mendelssohn’s blockbuster could well top them all.


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