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Handel brings help to Huggins

National Philharmonic pledges portion of proceeds from Holiday Concert to Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church

POTOMAC, MD — One of the best-known choral works, Messiah, HWV 56 was written by Handel in 1741 as an Easter offering, with English-language text compiled by arts patron and friend Charles Jennens. The oratorio features an instrumentation characteristic of baroque ensembles—including strings, oboes, trumpets, timpani, and basso continuo—as well as a choir and four vocal soloists. Following Handel’s death in 1759, the work has been adapted to feature sizable orchestras and choruses, and it has become a staple of the Christmas season. NatPhil continues this tradition with three holiday performances, featuring the National Philharmonic Chorale and Orchestra under the baton of Stan Engebretson. The choral and orchestral mass will be joined by four soloists: soprano Kearstin Piper Brown, mezzo soprano Lucia Bradford, tenor Norman Shankle, and baritone Jorell Williams.

National Philharmonic (NatPhil) presents three performances of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, aimed at bringing renewed social relevance, commentary, and philanthropy to an annual holiday tradition. Conducted by Stan Engebretson, the program features a stellar cast of African American singers alongside the National Philharmonic Chorale. In the spirit of the season, 50 percent of the proceeds from this year’s performances at Strathmore will go toward the 2nd Century Project to raise funds for the restoration of the historic Scotland African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church. NatPhil’s Messiah takes place on Saturday, December 17 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 18 at 3:00 p.m. at Strathmore and on Friday, December 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Tickets are currently on sale at

The Scotland African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church was built by hand and opened in 1924 by Black congregants in Potomac. Registered as a State Historic Site by the Maryland Historical Trust, today the church is the only historic building to survive in the Scotland community. It is a site of struggle, triumph, and resiliency that deserves to be celebrated and supported.

The original wood-frame structure, one of the last of its kind in the region, was nearly destroyed by a flood in the summer of 2019 and has suffered subsequent damage due to intense tropical storms over the past few years. These storms damaged the foundation of the church and collapse of the entire structure is imminent without your support.

Today, the members of the Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church and its allies in Montgomery County have launched the 2nd Century Project, a three-phase plan to rescue the building. They want to repair it, safeguard it against floods, and expand it to serve the future needs of the congregation and the wider community. “This is a tremendous blessing to our 2nd Century project” commented Pastor, Dr. Evalina Huggins, Presiding Elder of the Baltimore District.

In addition, NatPhil will welcome the Scotland A.M.E. Zion Mass Choir and its director Michael Terry for a pre-concert set on all dates. Patrons are encouraged to attend this free performance, which will start 30 minutes prior to the Messiah in the venues’ lobby areas.

The upcoming performances also provide an opportunity to research, reflect on, and educate audiences about the history of Messiah’s composer. An area of focus will be the recent scholarship uncovering Handel’s link to the slave economy through his own financial investments and by accepting donations from investors in the Royal African Company. To explore these complicated topics, NatPhil will partner with the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts (CAAPA) to present Hidden Handel, a seminar at the CAAPA Cultural Center on Wednesday, December 14th at 11 a.m. This panel discussion with talk-back aims to shed light on the lives of artists within their historical context, and to acknowledge the conflicts that exist between art and artists to this day. Additional education opportunities surrounding Handel will also be explored through NatPhil’s Harmonic Justice series, which highlights the intersection of racial equity and classical music.

“We are overjoyed to bring back Messiah—our most popular event each season—and to reach more people in the DMV area by presenting the program at two locations,” said National Philharmonic Music Director Piotr Gajewski. “Several aspects will make these performances even more meaningful than in years past: our fantastic cast of vocal soloists, whom we’re thrilled to showcase; our effort to raise awareness of, and much-needed support for, the Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church; and our learning and engagement activities to educate audiences about the complicated history behind Handel. All of these comprise what I deem to be an appropriate response to the programming of Handel’s masterpiece, and one that we aim to thoughtfully design and bring to our community for seasons to come.”

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