Houston Matters

How Handel’s ‘Messiah’ became a holiday favorite even though most of it isn’t about Christmas

Conductor Jeannette Sorrell talks about the history of the iconic work and previews the Houston Symphony’s upcoming performance.

Chorus and orchestra performing on stage
Melissa Taylor
The Houston Symphony and Houston Symphony Chorus performing Messiah in 2022.

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If you listen to holiday music frequently enough, you may find yourself stirred by a familiar refrain as a chorus joyously chants “Hallelujah!” again and again.

The Hallelujah Chorus, as it’s called, is just one small piece of a much larger work telling the biblical story of Jesus Christ: George Frideric Handel‘s Messiah.

Messiah is a perennial favorite, performed by orchestral and choral ensembles around the world during the month of December. Even here in Houston, the Houston Symphony assembles its musicians and a cohort of soloists for an annual presentation of Handel’s most famous work.

This year, conductor Jeannette Sorrell, founder and director of Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, will lead the Symphony, chorus, and soloists in the performance.

In the audio above, Houston Matters producer Joshua Zinn talks with Sorrell about the history of the piece, why the Hallelujah Chorus stands out, and how she keeps it all fresh and interesting for audiences.