When he wasn't composing operas or incidental music, the great Baroque-era composer George Frideric Handel wrote oratorios. These were unstaged opera-like works that featured big choruses, typically relied on narratives from the Old Testament and could be performed in churches and cathedrals.
Of more than two dozen oratorios, one of his most impressive is "Israel in Egypt." The King's Counterpoint will perform it at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, 129 Coming St., and again 3 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue, 90 Hasell St.
Tickets are $30 each for reserved seats, $25 general admission and $20 for students and seniors, and can be purchased by calling 843-297-4804 or visiting TheKingsCounterpoint.com.
"In the late 1700s and the 1800s, Handel's wonderful oratorio 'Israel in Egypt' was better know than 'Messiah,'" King's Counterpoint Music Director David Acres wrote in an email. "It has many more choruses and very few arias. The story of the great plagues of Egypt, the flight of the Israelites and the overthrowing of Pharaoh's pursuing army, is told in vivid choruses and dazzling instrumental passages."
The performances are made possible by Michael Kogan, in honor of his parents, Nathan B. Kogan and Marjorie D. Kogan. It's the second in a series of three Handel oratorios, performed by The King’s Counterpoint. The series began in December 2017 with “Judas Maccabaeus” and will conclude in 2020 with “Esther.”
"These oratorios tell the stories of three events in Jewish history recorded in the Scriptures," Kogan said. "They are tied to three Jewish religious festivals: Passover, Purim and Hanukkah. Handel had a large Jewish audience in 18th-century London who flocked to the performances of these Old Testament works. The larger Christian public, having been raised on the stories in the Bible, also cherished these biblical oratorios. They were tremendously successful. Today, only Handel’s 'Messiah' is widely known."
"Israel in Egypt" tells the Exodus story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt.
"The writing requires a double choir, and the combination of trombones, trumpets, bassoons, oboes, strings and timpani illustrates the glorious deliverance of the people of Israel in a striking and scintillating way," Acres wrote.
Kogan, a retired professor or religious studies, has roots in Charleston and lectures at local churches and synagogues.
"Some years ago, I determined to bring to the Charleston public Handel’s ... biblical oratorios, which are, in my view, the most magnificent musical settings of the biblical stories ever composed," he said.