Arts and Culture

Performances of Handel’s “Messiah” are a holiday tradition, but one group in Louisville is doing it the old-fashioned way.

Bourbon Baroque uses musical instruments that are authentic to the 18th century style, and works with its performers to present historically accurate arrangements.

Instead of performing just the first section of the piece that tells the Christmas story, as many traditional December performances do, Bourbon Baroque will also present the second and third parts of the work, which tell the story of Easter.

Co-artistic director Austin Clark said that much like “The Nutcracker” is a standard for ballet companies, Handel’s “Messiah” is a way for a baroque ensemble to test its mettle. Performing the full-length piece has been one of his goals for the group.

“It’s something that we are ready to do this year, and it’s kind of one of those rites of passage for a baroque ensemble,” Clark said.

In the 19th century, arrangers and performers had a tendency to make “Messiah” into a grand work, with a huge orchestra and a choir of hundreds. But the piece was originally scored for a more modest ensemble, which Bourbon Baroque will evoke with a chorus of 15 singers.

The solo material will be shared among the 15 singers, which allowed Clark to assign each piece to the singer who could perform it best. That choice also means that the singers will have to pace themselves.

“It’s a huge choral work,” Clark said. “So one thing that we’re going to have to figure out is how to keep their energy up, and they themselves will have to figure out what they can give in the choruses so that they can also do their solos.”

Bourbon Baroque’s “Messiah” will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Brigid Catholic Church.

Tara Anderson is the host and producer of Five Things, a podcast about the objects that tell our stories.