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Critical Media Lab collaborates with Grand Philharmonic Choir to illuminate Handel's "Messiah"

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Critical Media Lab plays an interesting part in the Grand Philharmonic Choir’s upcoming performance of Handel’s “Messiah” by assisting in the creation of digital projections of an illuminated copy of the St. John’s Bible. Read the story of how old and new media came together, originally published in the Daily Bulletin.


Imagine a performance of Handel's “Messiah” that is a feast not only for the ears, but also the eyes. The Grand Philharmonic Choir is preparing this seasonal classic for performance on Saturday, December 9 at Kitchener's Centre in the Square.

This performance will be unique aurally and visually, as the audience will experience not only the timelessness of Handel's music, but also projected hand-crafted images from the Saint John's Bible, a copy of which is now in residence at St. Jerome's University.

Commissioned in 1998 by the Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey and by Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, this Bible is one of a very few since the 16th century that has been hand-written and hand-illuminated, using natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold leaf. The images are created with ancient techniques but offer bold, modern interpretations of the familiar stories, including images from the Hubble Space Telescope and strands of DNA woven into illuminations.

illuminationThe depiction of the Nativity shows a solid bar of gold (a symbolic representation of the Divine) descending to the stable where the newborn Jesus lay, with the silhouettes of the cattle in sharp relief.

"This is Handel's “Messiah” as you've never seen it before," said the choir's artistic director, Mark Vuorinen. "These images are just stunning, and will bring a whole new dimension to the music."

Vuorinen, who is also professor of music at Conrad Grebel University College, has worked for months with the University's Critical Media Lab to get the images transformed to digital from ink and paper.

“For us, this project is about translating a complex literary text into a moving picture. It's a dance between old and new media, big books and big data projectors,” said Marcel O’Gorman, English professor and director of the Critical Media Lab. “This giant set of handmade books is a very conspicuous and important intrusion in a digital culture ruled by fleeting, disposable digital images. We wanted to capture that idea with our ambient animations."

Christie Digital, Dejero, the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund, St. Jerome's University, Conrad Grebel University College and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton are also important partners in this project, which blends 21st-century ideas and technology with traditional music and art.

Soloists for Messiah are Jacqueline Woodley, soprano; Marjorie Maltais, mezzo-soprano; Andrew Haji, tenor; and Russell Braun, baritone. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will accompany the choir, with Vuorinen conducting.

The performance, complete with images, will also be live-streamed to Kitchener City Hall's Cark Zehr Square for enjoyment by the public, free of charge.

For those attending the concert, there is a pre-concert talk by Fr. Eric Hollas, who was instrumental in the commissioning of the Saint John's Bible. Copies of the Bible will also be on display in the Centre's lobby for audience members to view and explore. This year is also the choir's 95th anniversary, having operated continuously since 1922.

The performance takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Centre in the Square. Tickets can be purchased online.

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