“Each performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is different, and my ‘Messyah’ is just ‘differenter’ than most,” Paul Ayres says.
It’s an understatement from the British composer, whose work, about to receive its world premiere from San Francisco’s Sanford Dole Ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, is particularly unique.
“Messyah,” a composition of loving, imaginative and humorous variations on the beloved choral masterpiece, has been in the works for years. Portions of it have been performed in Handel’s own parish church in London, as well as in the Bay Area, including a presentation by Sanford Dole Ensemble last year at St. Mary’s Church in San Francisco.
What’s on the schedule now is a performance of the entire 54-movement complete work Monday at the conservatory’s concert hall, which will be recorded live for a CD to be made available at a future date.
Is there some disrespect shown here to the world’s second-best-known classical music (assuming that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is No. 1)?
Not as far as conductor, singer and composer Dole is concerned:
He says, “I love ‘Messiah,’ but for one who lives in the 21st century, and has a knowledge of all the musical styles that have come since Handel was alive, I think you can’t help but hear the music through the prism of time.”
Dole is especially partial to various jazz styles and rhythms (including gospel) used by Ayres: “Hearing those wonderful baroque melodies recast in 5/8 or 7/8 time makes the music sound very modern.”
In the soprano aria “Rejoice,” accompanied by trumpet and bass guitar in Ayres’ version, Handel’s melody is recognizable, but has the twist of the jazzy rhythm and a different “feel,” which continues throughout the work.
He says, “My favorite example of this, and a great inside joke for those who have sung the piece, is in the movement ‘His yoke is easy.’ We’ve all made jokes such as ‘His yoke is greasy.’ In this case the melody is turned upside down so now ‘His yoke is over easy.’ “
Ayres “plays” with each movement and includes sight gags and unexpected interpolations of other tunes. Dole says, “The whole thing is an utter delight while preserving the dignity of the source material.”
Ayres is coming to San Francisco for the event, and will give a preconcert lecture at 6:15 p.m. Monday.
A modern rewrite of Handel’s “Messiah” by Paul Ayres, presented by Sanford Dole Ensemble
Where: San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Grove St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Contact: (415) 254-1787, www.sde.org/performances