Orlando Sings Symphonic Chorus gets a handle on Handel with awe-inspiring results

For the spring season at Steinmetz Hall, Orlando Sings is poised to perform Handel's "Messiah"
For the spring season at Steinmetz Hall, Orlando Sings is poised to perform Handel's "Messiah" photo by Michael Cairns

Orlando Sings doesn't stage your typical choral recital of yesteryear. After witnessing their "Spirit of South America" performance last year, our immediate reaction was, "That actually rocked!"

Our ears and imagination were fully engaged from the first note to the last. This wasn't a stuffy academic-music vibe. It was alive, passionate and vibrant. The program mixed secular and sacred music that shimmered through the venue (First United Methodist Church of Orlando) like rays from a fine crystal. A core band featuring Timucua regulars, members of Ella and the Bossa Beat, and about 80 or so vocalists all conjured up cascades of beatific harmony that swept over the audience, brilliant and ethereal. The audience were transported to another place via the performers' deft arrangements.

One of Central Florida's newest cultural organizations, Orlando Sings Symphonic Chorus is now in their second year and coming out of the gates in 2023 with some rather script-flipping approaches to classic choral works.

For this spring season at Dr. Phillips' Steinmetz Hall, Orlando Sings on Thursday performs Handel's "Messiah," a masterpiece of melodic classical music that has stood the test of time with jazz and rock interpretations by the heady likes of Allen Toussaint, David Axelrod and Electric Light Orchestra, down through Saturday morning cartoons via Schoolhouse Rock — not to mention the occasional reggae cover and hip-hop sample.

What we have with Orlando Sings is on a level with what one would find in the cultural meccas around the world, which Orlando could very well become. The group's take on "Messiah" promises to dazzle the music-going public and confound the expectations of the throngs of new arts enthusiasts in search of cultural delights.

Director of Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs Terry Olson — also a member of Orlando Sings — reflected to OW about what makes this chorus unique. "I have sung choruses from Handel's 'Messiah' before, but getting to sing with this high quality choir in the Steinmetz Hall with the Orlando Philharmonic is going to be incredible. Dr. Minear's understanding the story arc of the whole and how each part fits and how the music reflects the part of the story is so intense and personal. ... I get goosebumps."

As Olson alludes, the not-so-hidden secret of Orlando Sings' success is the infectious joy and groove that conductor — as well as Artistic & Executive Director — Dr. Andrew Minear brings to his collaborations with the 80-plus vocalists in the ensemble. Witnessing the rehearsals of the music being assembled for this program gave testimony, as Minear was bouncing and bopping along with a smile, eyes closed in euphoria or with an intense gaze of approval as the singers hit their marks. Minear issued the OK sign on cue time and again, like it was a dance move in time with the choir as they let forth a joyful noise that was immediately enrapturing, giving cause for ... yes, goosebumps.

Orlando Weekly reached out to Dr. Minear to get the inside line on these talented voices.

Tell us about the process of working on this program.

It has been a thrill to make this incredible music come to life. The singers have really leaned into the visceral qualities of the music: Sometimes they dance with joy, at other times they are fiercely aggressive, and at other times stunningly sublime.

Everything you just mentioned goes through our imagination when we hear the Orlando Sings style of arranging the music.

When done right, "Messiah" can be quite dramatic! It is literally about life and death. We sing of hope, human frailty, suffering, scorn, sacrifice, judgment, joy and ultimately victory. It is truly amazing how this music brings the musicians and audience members through the full range of the human condition.

On the topic of the familiar parts of "Messiah," is the hit single, so to speak, the "Hallelujah Chorus"?

Some of "Messiah" is so popular that it has crossed over into popular culture, like the "Hallelujah Chorus," for example. Nevertheless, I hope our audience will experience it in a new way, as I am really interested in bringing a fresh and exciting new interpretation to the stage in the beautiful Steinmetz Hall.

From the pulpit to the dancefloor, "Messiah" is likely being played somewhere right now. It truly is a piece of music that crosses the aisles of secular and devotional; it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

I hope our audience will be moved and inspired. People of certain faith backgrounds may have a religious experience as they reflect on the story, while others will appreciate it more in a humanistic way: the stunning beauty and power of the human voice and art of music.

7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 30, Steinmetz Hall, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, drphillipscenter.org, $34.25-$84.25.

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