GRANTHAM — The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra takes a rare road trip next week, traveling down Route 15 to Messiah College for a performance at Mendelssohn’s great oratorio, “Elijah,” at 8 p.m. Friday, April 11, to help college officials inaugurate the $28 million Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and the Performing Arts.
“We felt it would be an excellent way to introduce the community to our beautiful new venue,” college president Kim S. Phipps said. “It also gives folks on the West Shore and northern York County the opportunity to hear this wonderful symphony perform in a hall that is acoustically outstanding.”
Joining the professional orchestra will be the college’s Concert Choir plus the Susquehanna Chorale, a frequent HSO collaborator that is also Messiah’s ensemble in residence.
Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra conductor Stuart Malina said he’s excited about the opportunity to test out Messiah’s new 825-seat auditorium, which was built with musical acoustics in mind.
“It will be interesting to experience the orchestra in a venue designed specifically as a concert hall,” Malina said. “I’ve been down there several times, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful hall.”
The extra concert is part of the orchestra’s sixth Masterworks program for the 2013-14 season, and the orchestra — plus the choruses — will be back at The Forum for their regularly scheduled performances of “Elijah” at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 13.
The orchestra will split rehearsal time between High Center and The Forum as it prepares for “Elijah,” which Mendelssohn composed in 1846 as a musical depiction of the life of the Biblical prophet.
Malina said he expects there will be some adjustments needed to account for the differing acoustics in the two venues. But he has no doubt that Mendelssohn’s hypnotic blend of choral and orchestral music will be effective in both locations.
“‘Elijah’ is a piece I’ve been wanting to do for years, a piece I’ve never performed before,” Malina said. “It was a natural choice to perform at Messiah, but beyond that, it has a universal appeal. It’s Mendelssohn’s masterpiece.”
Physically getting the orchestra ready to play at Messiah is not expected to present problems. The orchestra already has a good bit of travel experience, performing a series of free outdoor concerts in central Pennsylvania — including one at Dickinson College — around the Fourth of July holiday each year.
“We know how to do this,” orchestra executive director Jeff Woodruff said.
Woodruff added that the Messiah concert marks the first time the orchestra has performed a Masterworks concert away from The Forum during his 11-year tenure — and possibly the first time ever. “We’ve had a relationship with Messiah going back many, many years,” Woodruff said, “so we’re glad we were able to make this work.”
Essentially, the orchestra has simply been hired to play at Messiah, which is handling marketing and ticketing for the event. The High Center already has been in use for several months, including a well-received October concert featuring famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Woodruff said the “Elijah” concert at Messiah will provide the orchestra with an opportunity to reach a new audience of classical music fans living in southern Cumberland and northern York counties.
“We are always hoping for new audiences, as every orchestra is,” Woodruff said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who live in the neighborhood of Messiah and to the south that normally may not be interested in venturing up to Harrisburg to go to The Forum. Hopefully, if they hear us at Messiah, maybe that will inspire them to make the trip.”
Whether the orchestra’s appearance at Messiah will be a one-shot deal or mark the beginning of a regular event remains to be seen. Woodruff and Malina said they will sit down with Messiah officials after the concert and assess how the event went from a financial, as well as an aesthetic standpoint.
Messiah President Phipps, who also serves as vice chairwoman of the symphony orchestra’s board of directors, said she hopes things work out so that this concert will just be the first of many campus performances by the orchestra.
“My hope would be for HSO to come back every year,” she said. “We want people to see Messiah as a real hub of the arts, and I think offering cultural arts of the quality provided by this orchestra will continue to draw people to our campus.”