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Photo Courtesy of Steven Shires

The South Florida Symphony Orchestra Debuts Handel’s Messiah

By Denny Patterson

The sounds of Christmas are right around the corner.

For the first time, Maestra Sebrina Alfonso will conduct the South Florida Symphony Orchestra (SFSO) in Handel’s glorious holiday tradition, Messiah. Kick off the holiday season as dazzling vocal soloists Neil Nelson (bass baritone), Martin Nusspaumer (tenor), Brittany Graham (soprano), Rehanna Thelwell (mezzo-soprano), along with the South Florida Symphony Chorus (SFSC), perform the Christmas portion of this iconic concert. 

“This is primarily a choral number with four soloists, and the orchestra is the accompaniment,” Chorale Director Dr. Giselle Elgarresta Rios said. “It is an oratorio, which is a vocal dramatic from the Baroque period that is sacred in nature, and it is a relatively long piece. We are only doing the Christmas portion, so it will be under an hour. The full Messiah includes an Easter portion, making it over two hours. It’s uplifting, spiritual, and the “Hallelujah” chorus at the end is a wonderful depiction of joy, which we all need at this time.” 

Messiah’s musical narrative brilliantly transcends belief systems, and the holiday favorite is paired with Bach’s intricate Triple Concerto for harpsichord, flute, violin, and string orchestra. 

Rios says one of the best qualities of this piece is text painting. 

“It is a compositional technique from the Baroque period, and it’s when you paint or depict the text within the music itself,” she said. “Handel is very successful at describing the word, for example, ‘rage,’ ‘rejoice,’ or ‘born,’ so he is putting all this ornamentation to the words and bringing out their meaning. That is a beautiful thing about this piece, and really, Messiah depicts everything that the Baroque period is. It’s grand dimension, very dramatic, and it has religious intensity. Those are the three characteristics of the Baroque period itself.”

SFSO_Maestra-Sebrina-Alfonso_Music-Director
Photo Courtesy of Steven Shires

Originally from South Florida, Rios has been instrumental in furthering the interest for the arts. 

“I was singing before I was able to speak,” she joked. “Music motivates me. It’s my passion, it’s my vocation. I just want to keep learning and improving, and I am constantly pushing my standards and challenging myself.”

In addition to directing the SFSC, which she helped form two seasons ago when the SFSO presented Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Rios is a professor at Barry University and is associated with several different organizations promoting and instilling values through music. 

After a year of no concerts or live performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she is more than excited to return to the stage.

“I am so excited to feel that exchange of energy between the chorus, orchestra, conductor, and the audience again,” she said. “I cannot wait to get there and feel that again. Connecting with an audience, it’s what we do as artists, and we take it for granted. Not anymore. We want to see and find ourselves again.”

As for the future of the chorus, Rios says she is helping to build more community engagement.

We want to increase the community participation in the chorus,” she said. “We actually have some people from Broward, Boca, North Miami, and South Miami. We would like to reach out to more of the community, and eventually, we would eventually like to have a season within the SFSO’s Masterworks series.” 

Messiah will be performed at The Parker on December 1, 2021 and at Barry University’s Broad Center on December 4, 2021. Both showings are at 7:30PM.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit SouthFloridaSymphony.org, or call (954) 522-8445.