James Judd returns to Broward Center in triumphant “Messiah”

By David Fleshler


James Judd, a bit grayer but still an energetic presence on the podium, returned to the stage of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday for an exultant performance of Handel’s Messiah.

As music director of the defunct Florida Philharmonic, Judd had strode on to that stage many times before, and on Sunday he rounded out three days of performances of Handel’s traditional Christmas classic with a return to the scene of so many of his past concerts. He led a performance by the Master Chorale of South Florida, Boca Raton Symphonia and four young soloists from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Attending Messiah is a holiday ritual for many families, as evidenced by the number of dressed-to-the-nines preteens in the audience, as well as the hundreds of people clearly aware of the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah chorus. But there were big blocks of empty seats at the Broward Center, surprising given the draw of Judd’s name and Handel’s oratorio.

Many Messiah performances attempt to awe with volume and a sort of muddy grandeur. Although Judd’s approach was grand enough, it was also fleet and light. When the great climaxes for chorus and orchestra came, they sounded that much more powerful.

During his years at the Florida Philharmonic, Judd had helped build its choir. When the orchestra went out of business, the choir members determined to save their ensemble, reorganized as the Master Chorale of South Florida, and on Sunday Judd have every reason to be proud of what he had helped create.

The choir, clearly well prepared by artistic director Joshua Habermann, sang with precision, power and excellent intonation, even in the fast passages of Judd’s rapid tempos. The counterpoint of choruses such as And the glory of the Lord and O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion came through not only with sufficient clarity to understand the words, but with sensitive phrasing and expressive power. One of the greatest moments was the soft, grave closing of All we like sheep, when the chorus members sang with superb balance, transparency and beauty of tone, in a quiet passage that filled the hall.

Handling the solo parts were four young singers from Philadelphia’s renowned Curtis Institute of Music, a conservatory fully equal in prestige, if not size, to Juilliard. All did well, and of particular note were the urgent, beautifully phrased solos by mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges.

The Boca orchestra played with accuracy and rich, full-bodied sound for a relatively small ensemble. In one of the final numbers, Jeff Kaye, Judd’s former colleague as principal trumpet of the Florida Philharmonic, rose for the solo of The trumpet shall sound. Kay earned the only spontaneous round of applause of the afternoon for a performance that achieved exultation without reliance on volume or vibrato, just church-bell clarity, technical precision and tonal brilliance.

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3 Responses to “James Judd returns to Broward Center in triumphant “Messiah””

  1. Posted Dec 07, 2009 at 3:59 pm by John

    Florida Philharmonic? I remember the Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida. James Judd hated that name because of the acronym POOF, but I don’t recall the orchestra’s ever actually changing its name.

    There were also (too) many empty seats Saturday night in Boca Raton.

  2. Posted Dec 08, 2009 at 10:40 am by Heberto

    I would have liked the lights at the Broward Center to be dimmed and the words of the oratorio to be provided in the program ( either to be included in the program or to be purchased) so I could have followed the performance better.

  3. Posted Dec 08, 2009 at 2:55 pm by David

    POOF did actually change its name to Florida Philharmonic Orchestra in, oh, 1991, and was known by that name for 12 years. How on Earth could any classical music lover in SoFla not know this?

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