Sounds of the season · TOCCATA performs Handel’s ‘Messiah’

This holiday season, TOCCATA Tahoe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will be returning to the stage with their annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”


Dec. 16 | 7 p.m. | Corpus Christi Catholic Church | Carson City, Nev.
Dec. 18 | 3:30 p.m. | St. Theresa Catholic Church | South Lake Tahoe
Dec. 23 | 5:30 p.m. | Olympic Village Lodge | Olympic Valley

“It’s one of the most inspirational pieces ever written,” says TOCCATA artistic director, Maestro James Rawie. “It’s also one of the world’s most popular pieces. Handel was in a frenzy of joy when he composed it in a little less than three weeks. ‘Messiah’ is the equivalent of the ballet world’s ‘Nutcracker.’ It’s a seasonal piece that kicks off the holiday tradition.”

The Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area (TOCCATA) was founded in 2005 by Rawie and his wife, Nancy, as a nonprofit musical arts organization. Its mission is to raise awareness and appreciation of classical orchestral and choral music by bringing quality, affordable performances to the greater Reno-Tahoe area and to provide a venue for accomplished musicians to display and develop their talents. Aside from the local community aspect, what makes TOCCATA unique is the combination of the full choir with the symphony.

“Our chorus is our signature,” says Rawie. “With this combination, the music becomes much more subdued and profound.”

The full “Messiah” is three hours long and interprets the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ through music. It was first performed in Dublin, Ireland. on March 23, 1742; Handel conducted it. TOCCATA adapts the piece in order to bring out the holiday spirit of the audience.

“Nobody’s really ready to listen to the complete ‘Messiah,’ ” says Rawie. “We do about half the piece and in the middle we do Christmas carols for which the audience has word sheets in the program. They’re invited to sing along with a big orchestra and chorus and that’s always fun. Our performance is a true holiday celebration.”

TOCCATA’s performance will be highlighted by the solo performances of soprano Joy Strotz and tenor Brad Perry, both residents of Incline Village, Nev.

“It’s one of the most inspirational pieces ever written. … Handel was in a frenzy of joy when he composed it in a little less than three weeks.” – Maestro James Rawie

“Joy is just one of those singers who is phenomenally talented,” says Rawie. “She’s our top soloist and a coloratura soprano, which means her main voice range is a bit higher with a penchant for lots of fast notes. Brad is a very versatile tenor who can also sing the baritone range. He’s more a Verdi-type tenor than a Baroque-type tenor meaning he’s a bigger more operatic-type tenor who is much more powerful than focused and agile.”

Although Strotz has been singing this part for many years, she looks forward to this opportunity each time around.

“Every year I think maybe I’ll be tired of it this time and then I start singing and I’m thinking, ‘This is all I want to,’ ” she says. “I love to encourage first-timers to attend because they have no idea how fantastic ‘Messiah’ is. It’s beautiful music. You can’t beat it.”

The key to harnessing the composition’s beauty and power is the full assembly of more than 50 TOCCATA singers from Truckee, Lake Tahoe, Reno and Carson City.

“Mostly it’s the blending of the classical musical instruments and the choral voices,” says Strotz. “The best parts are when everyone is playing and singing together. They all really love doing it. For most of them, they feel that it’s spiritual as well.”

The final performance will be even more spectacular this year with the addition of a “Singing Tree” created by Squaw Valley Institute. This is a giant structurally engineered Christmas tree built to hold all the singers in the chorus at once, stacked baritone to soprano from bottom to top.

“The Singing Tree will be a set highlight so prepare yourselves for an amazing evening,” says Squaw Valley Institute executive director Matt Reardon. “I’m a big fan of Maestro Rawie and his work, so the fit was quite seamless to pull off at Squaw. It will have humans wrapped up to the ceiling and has been six months in the making. It will be by far the wow factor of the show.”

While singing in a Christmas tree will be a new experience for most TOCCATA singers, at least one person is eager to try it out.

“I look forward to my first experience being part of a tree,” says Strotz. “I’m very curious to see what it will be like. The only the thing I haven’t done yet is sing while swinging like Peter Pan or sing upside down. So I guess this time I’ll be in the tree. Hallelujah!” |


Read Tahoe Music & Festivals for more Holiday Happenings