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Soloist finds something new in 'Messiah'

December  01, 2011

Soprano Mary Wilson


General admission for Messiah is $20. Tickets for senior citizens, students, children, Augustana staff members, and groups are available at a reduced rate. For ticket pricing or to place an order, visit or call the Augustana Ticket Office at (309) 794-7306.


See how students and community singers prepare for Messiah

Four internationally acclaimed soloists, including returning soprano Mary Wilson, will sing with a professional chamber orchestra and 250 singers from Augustana and the Quad-Cities community in this year's performance of Handel's Messiah.

The Handel Oratorio Society will give its 131st anniversary performances at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, in Centennial Hall on campus, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island.

Leading soprano Mary Wilson sought the opportunity to work once again with Augustana's Jon Hurty, director of the Handel Oratorio Society. She had sung Messiah and other works previously at Augustana.

"Every time, I leave with the most positive feelings about the entire experience," she said. "Everyone involved in these performances of Messiah truly cares ... and it makes for a very special and rare evening of music."

Dr. Hurty, she said, "breathes with the singer and is easy to follow. I feel very connected to both the music and the conductor when I work with him."

Hurty said Wilson is one of the top sopranos with whom he has worked. "She not only has a wonderful voice, but also finds a way to connect to the music and to the audience in a way that is both unique and engaging," he said.

Wilson earned performance degrees from St. Olaf College and Washington University in St. Louis, and has appeared on the concert stage with world-renowned orchestras, most recently the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Joining Wilson in Messiah will be mezzo soprano Rebecca Ringle, an emerging artist from New York City who currently is on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera chorus; tenor Christopher Cock, who serves as director of choral activities at Valparaiso University while carrying an active performance schedule; and baritone Gerard Sundberg, a professor of voice at Wheaton Conservatory of Music who also has distinguished himself as a concert artist, most frequently in the Chicago area.

The Augustana Oratorio Society, later renamed the Handel Oratorio Society, was formed in 1879 by Augustana theology Professor Olof Olsson. Olsson had seen Messiah performed in London earlier that year and immediately made plans to bring the work back to the Quad Cities. Although he faced some initial challenges, including how to pay for musical scores to be sent from Europe, the choir's first performance of Messiah in April of 1881 was a success.

Since its beginnings, the Handel Oratorio Society has more than tripled in size and currently performs with the professional Handel Oratorio Society Chamber Orchestra.

Dr. Hurty said he finds it fascinating that Handel, a prolific opera composer, is so well-known for the oratorio. "Messiah is the most popular of all of Handel's oratorios and probably the most popular oratorio of all time. In some ways, the piece is much like an un-staged opera ... since it is not staged, the music must stand completely on its own."

Wilson said she hears something new every times she performs Messiah. "One can still discover new ways in which Handel brilliantly illustrates and illuminates every line of text," she said.

The Handel Oratorio Society's condensed version of Messiah lasts approximately two-and-a-half hours, with a 20-minute intermission between acts.

For more information, contact Andrew Walter by email or at (309) 794-7833.

Sam Schlouch
Senior Communication Director
(309) 794-7833