& & by Kris Dennison & &

It's late winter, and any warm-blooded Spokane resident with an ounce of sense is looking for something to break the monotony of cold weather, gray snow and upcoming tax bills. Music lovers need look no further than the upcoming performances of the Spokane Symphony Chorale.

This year has been full of excitement and challenge for the Chorale. "I think we're having a wonderful season, beginning with the Carmina Burana," says Lori Wiest, conductor of the Spokane Symphony Chorale and director of Choral Activities at WSU. This year's schedule also includes a pops concert, a Handel oratorio, a Villa-Lobos chorus in Portuguese and the Henry V suite by English composer Walton. "It shows the versatility of the group to be performing all these different pieces," Wiest says.

But being the conductor of a chorale like this one is a hard position for a musician. Most of the time Wiest doesn't get to actually conduct the chorale performances she works so hard to prepare the choir for. "I enjoy preparing ensembles very much," Wiest explains. "It would be very exciting to perform with them as well, but if I don't do a position like this, I don't get a chance to prepare some of the larger works." One example of one of these larger works is the Chorale's upcoming performances of Handel's Messiah, March 2 and 3 at St. Aloysius Church on the campus of Gonzaga University.

"The Messiah was originally written as a benefit," explains Wiest. "It continues to be used in that way even today."

Handel wrote this famous oratorio in 1741 to be performed at a series of concerts in Dublin that would benefit charities there. It took him only 21 days to compose the Messiah, and almost four centuries later, it is one of the most well-recognized works in the choral-orchestral canon. However, as well known as this piece may be, the performance will be anything but old hat. The wonderful acoustic setting of the church, with Spokane Symphony Associate Conductor Fabio Costa leading the Chorale and the Orchestra is sure to resonate with even the most seasoned Handel fans.

"I always think that any time we do a performance or work on a piece it should be a new experience," says Wiest. "Every individual singer needs to treat it as if it's something new and special. You have to think about your audience having the experience for the first time."

And not all of the 52 parts of the Messiah are as well known to audiences, or singers, as the famous "Hallelujah Chorus."

"There are some movements that have been performed over and over again, and there are some movements that are hardly ever heard," explains Wiest. The complete oratorio tells the entire story of Christ's birth, death and resurrection, and will be performed in its near entirety by the Chorale. "Typically we associate it with Christmas," says Wiest. "But it's not. It was meant not necessarily for Christmas, but for the Easter time."

Just a few weeks after the Messiah, on March 30, the Chorale will be back in the Opera House with Fabio Mechetti conducting a piece by a fellow Brazilian, Choros 10 by Villa-Lobos, in a concert that includes music by Ravel and Ibert, with guest pianist Pascal Roge. The composer created a psuedo-Hindi text and combined it with a Portuguese poem to create a piece that's both primal and modern.

"It's a wonderful work," says Wiest. "Written in the '20s. I hear jazz in there, and some of An American in Paris. It's very exciting."

Like most cities with a well-attended professional orchestra, Spokane's Chorale is a dedicated and talented group of volunteer singers who rehearse every week to add their voices to the music of the instrumental musicians. "It's typical that most of the time the choirs associated with the orchestra are not paid," explains Wiest. "But many of the people in the chorale have music degrees -- they have a lot of experience."

And for Wiest and the rest of the Chorale, the rewards are in making music together. "I enjoy the group, and it's a good reminder that life goes on after college, and music goes on after college," Wiest says. "I enjoy working with community members who want music to be a part of their lives."

& & & lt;i & Handel's Messiah is at St. Aloysius Church, 330 E. Boone, on Friday, March 2, at 8 pm, and Saturday, March 3, at 8 pm. Tickets: $10-$15. Call: 624-1200. The Spokane Symphony Chorale performs Villa-Lobos' Choros 10 at The Opera House on Friday, March 30, at 8 pm. Tickets: $14.50-$32. Call: 624-1200. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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