Handel’s Messiah in Hebrew? In Israel? Hallelujah!
David Loden is regarded by many as the father of Messianic music in Israel. He began his musical career in the United States, first as a singer and then in New York as a professional actor, writer and composer. Today he serves in pastoral ministry in northern Israel, while maintaining a heart for the performing arts as an expression of his faith in Y’shua (Jesus). Susan Perlman interviewed him regarding the performance of Handel’s Messiah in Hebrew.
SP: David, tell us a little about how you began using the arts in Israel and particularly what inspired you to work on The Messiah in Hebrew?
DL: Well, my background before coming to the Lord was in music [he was an opera singer] and the theater. Soon after coming to faith, I put together a large national choir of Messianic Jews, Arab Christians as well as Christians from the nations. It was called “the Singers of Praise.” We performed Handel’s Messiah, among other things, and I directed those performances. Since then I have written many worship songs that are sung by congregations here in Israel. But it’s always been a desire of my heart to get back into larger works that would glorify the Lord in a different way.
SP: Like the opera you wrote a decade ago?
DL: Yes, that opera was based on the story of David and Bathsheba with the theme of repentance. We performed that in 1996 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Netanya. Since then I’ve looked for other opportunities. This Messiah in Hebrew has been the dream on the hearts of several people here in Israel. I was not the one to begin this project; yet through the efforts of many, we did a pilot production in the spring of 2007. I helped put together and train the choir, but basically my role was to sing the bass solos, which I’ve always enjoyed.
SP: So Israelis are really interested to hear sacred music like The Messiah?
DL: The Jewish people have always loved The Messiah, by Handel. Every time it’s performed in this country, which is yearly, Jewish people are part of the audience—they love it. But the Hebrew performance was historic. The Hebrew fits like a glove with Handel’s music. And what this does is take the music out of the box of being strictly art. It now becomes an intelligible witness to the Lord. The Scriptures come through the language and can be understood by everybody.
SP: How extensive were the performances this year?
DL: There was limited exposure, but we have plans to do it again in the fall of 2008 during the Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles] festival.
SP: How many musicians and singers will be involved?
DL: There will be a chamber orchestra of 22 players and a choir of 40-50, as well as four professional soloists. We are hoping to record it live in Jerusalem. We’ll also do performances in the north and in central Israel.
SP: What will your role be in the upcoming production?
DL: Probably as conductor of the oratorio.
SP: How can we be praying for you and for this project?
DL: We’d like prayer to be able to find the necessary financing to do this. And we’d like prayer that there not be any significant organized opposition, if possible.
But most important, we’d like prayer that many unbelieving Israelis come to the performances. Israelis appreciate good music. There is a sacred music festival every year in Israel which is extremely well-attended, almost exclusively by Israeli non-believers. But the music they hear is in a box and it is non-threatening because it’s art, not religion. It’s in Latin or German or even English—not the mother tongue of the listeners.
Imagine that this music is sung in the Hebrew tongue and listeners suddenly hear their own Scriptures not only sung but exposited—just think of the possibilities! It becomes a tool for really sharing the life of the Messiah. And that’s our deepest desire—for people to really hear the music and the message of The Messiah.