A 'Messiah' Performance Of, By And For Musicians

WORCESTER - It is the tenor who begins the vocal proceedings in Handel's "Messiah," with the opening recitative "Comfort Ye" and the wonderful aria, "Every valley shall be exalted."

When the chorus then stands to sing the breathtaking "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed," the tenor, so to speak, has been set for this glorious masterpiece of choral art.

To put it another way, "I open the show," said Kirk Bobkowski on being the tenor soloist for this year's annual Worcester Chorus performance of "Messiah" conducted by music director Christopher Shepard at 8 p.m. Saturday in Mechanics Hall.

The spotlight will be on Bobkowski right away in his most significant role to date as a member of the Worcester Chorus. Presented by Music Worcester Inc., its performance of "Messiah," with a full orchestra, has been a Worcester holiday tradition for more than 100 years.

Handel’s "Messiah," first performed 275 years ago on April 13, 1742, in Dublin, is a contemplative work about the story of Jesus Christ and has considerable dramatic and emotional movement as the music unfolds.

"If you talk about 'Messiah,' people know the 'Hallelujah' chorus and that aria ('Every valley ... ') along with 'Rejoice (greatly,' soprano aria)," Bobkowski said.

Vocal challenges are also part of "Messiah," and "Every valley ..." can be quite an initial examination. "There are a lot of fast notes. Chris (Shepard) likes to keep it lively," Bobkowski said. "Keep up with the orchestra, that's the challenge in that one."

For someone who didn't start singing until he was in high school, Bobkowski, who grew up in Holden, has been on something of a fast track as a singer as well as a music educator.  He won the National School Choral Award in 2009 a year before graduating from Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, and then graduated from Keene State College with a bachelor of music in performance and education where he was twice named "Singer of the Year." He has done master's work at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for a master of music in vocal performance degree, sung professionally, and is a music teacher and chorus director at Chocksett Middle School in Sterling and teaches after-school voice lessons at Wachusett Regional High School.

"I never sang until high school. I found out I was decent at it and enjoyed it," Bobkowski said.

Meanwhile, Bobkowski has been a member of the Worcester Chorus since he was a junior at high school. Among his fellow chorus members is his father, Patrick Bobkowski.

"This is probably the biggest thing I've done so far," Kirk Bobkowski said of being the Worcester Chorus tenor soloist for "Messiah." The four soloists for the performance, standing front and center on the stage, are outstanding singers who are often brought in from outside the chorus.

When Shepard told him he had the solo tenor role this year, "I was excited. He's been a great mentor to me. He's given me solo parts all leading up to this," Bobkowski said.  

He had made a good impression from the start.

"In nearly a decade conducting the Worcester Chorus, one of my greatest thrills has been watching Kirk Bobkowski develop into such a fine singer," Shepard said.  "He was in his final high school years when I first came, and I could tell immediately that this was a talented young singer. I've followed his development from Keene State to UMass, and have hired him as a soloist on a number of occasions, including working with him in CONCORA, my professional Hartford-based choir. And now I'm so excited about his big hometown 'Messiah' premiere."

Bobkowski said  "I've always had music in my life," including his father and grandfather singing in the local church choir. Bobkowski's musical inclinations were toward playing brass instruments, but around the age of 15 he said, "I'm going to try singing." He joined the choir/chorus at Wachusett Regional High School and "I took to it. It was just a fun time."

Joining his father in the Worcester Chorus, "I never looked back."

Bobkowski has also gone on to perform operatic roles and is a member of the Odyssey Opera of Boston Chorus, and other affiliations include Diamonds from the Dust chamber choir. He also sings at weddings, funerals and services for the Worcester Catholic Diocese. 

"I'm open to any kind of professional singing," he said. However, he also has "a lot of things going on." For one thing, he's a teacher and he just brought a house in Worcester, so there are bills to pay. With opera, the time commitment can be especially difficult because "you have to give up everything for three weeks."

Then there's lumberjacking in the summer, something Bobkowski would be reluctant to give the chop to.

"When I'm not singing, I'm cutting down trees." He said he got into being a lumberjack via his father, who has been an arborist for more than 30 years.

Bobkowski is perfectly OK with it. 

"It's a nice summer job. It's like getting paid to exercise," he said.

"I'd love to tour (as a singer) and all that, but it's tough to do. I do as many gigs as I can."

Watching and enjoying a student performance of "Messiah" while at Wachusett Regional High School was another reason Bobkowski got involved the Worcester Chorus. He recalled that a family friend told him " 'If you like that, why don't you sing with the Worcester Chorus?'" 

The Worcester Chorus can trace its own history and its performances of "Messiah" back to 1858 when a music convention in the "new" Mechanics Hall (built in 1857) culminated with a “Grande Finale Concert” as a large chorus performed a program that included selections from the work.

The performance on Saturday will include the Festival Orchestra and the Festival Singers, a group of Worcester-area vocal students coached by members of the Worcester Chorus. Besides Bobkowski, the soloists are Jennifer Ferrand-Kelly (soprano), Helen Karloski (alto) and Stephan Barnicle (bass).

Bobkowski said he is dedicated his performance in memory of Carroll Lehman, his voice teacher at Keene State University, who died this summer.

Saturday's performance will also be a family occasion for the Bobkowski family.

"My mom and sister in the audience, my dad behind me singing in the choir," Bobkowski said.

Contact Richard Duckett at richard.duckett@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @TGRDuckett.

 

Source : http://www.telegram.com/entertainmentlife/20171201/tenor-from-holden-to-launch-worcester-chorus-performance-of-messiah-saturday

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