December 01, 2022 | Matt Kucinski

A man startes out into the distance with a background blurred behind him.
Fitah Rasendrahasina '13 from Madagascar is one of the four alumni soloists performing Handel's Messiah at Calvin University this weekend.

For more than a century, Calvin University has invited the West Michigan community to performances of Handel’s Messiah. This is one of the longest-running annual traditions at Calvin. On Friday, December 2, and Saturday, December 3, that tradition continues.

View performance times and purchase tickets.

“What a gift it is to extend this tradition in a year that has brought us both inspiring images of distant galaxies and disturbing news of warfare and cultural turmoil,” said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. “How we long to hear ‘Comfort Ye.’ How we need to hear ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ How grateful we are to affirm ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’”

While this year’s performances are part of the 103rd edition, they are quite unique in that the entire quartet of accomplished soloists are Calvin alumni. Lisa Walhout (soprano), Helen VanWyck (mezzo), Fitah Rasendrahasina (tenor) and Jonathan TenBrink (bass) all return to campus for the performances.

“It is not uncommon to have soloists who are Calvin alumni, but to have all four is quite rare,” said Witvliet. “For the quartet to also represent alumni from four different decades shows that from generation-to-generation our alums cherish proclaiming the good news of the Messiah in song.”

The quartet of soloists are supported by nearly 100 additional vocalists in the Calvin Oratorio Society and are accompanied by dozens of instrumentalists in the Calvin Orchestra, all under the direction of experienced conductor John Varineau. The performers represent Calvin alumni and alumni of other institutions, veteran and first-timers, local musicians and also soloists who fly thousands of miles, including Fitah Rasendrahasina coming all the way from Madagascar.

In total, the audience, orchestra, and chorus represent eight decades-worth of graduating classes from Calvin dating back to the 1950s, as well as many future alumni.

“The music of Handel’s Messiah is such a fitting way to ground our Advent and Christmas worship, inviting us to slow down and dwell deeply with the remarkable gift of a savior. It is a privilege for everyone involved to participate and to welcome a new generation of performers and listeners into this rich tradition.”

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