Trinity Church’s ‘Messiah’ Is Still the Gold Standard

The holidays are a time for traditions — and for doubting them. Is Grandma’s ham drier than you thought when you were young? Is the movie the whole family watches every year maybe a little offensive?

For me, the question on Wednesday was whether Trinity Wall Street’s version of Handel’s “Messiah” would be as good — as bracing, as riveting, as disturbing and consoling — as I remembered.

Seeing Trinity’s “Messiah” for the first time, in 2011, showed me the galvanic possibilities of this classic work more than any recording or live outing I’d ever heard. This wasn’t the usual, quaintly sleepy Christmas routine, but a seething, electrically direct and dramatic enactment of an oratorio that both describes and calls for transformation: “And we shall be changed,” its crucial line promises.

It had been a good few years since I’d heard the church’s Handel. But when people would ask me for a “Messiah” recommendation among the many options that pop up in New York each December, I always replied with a single word: Trinity.

This “Messiah” long achieved its exhilarating quality because of an exceptional in-house choir and period-instrument orchestra — and because of Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts, who led the church’s medieval-to-modern music program with energy and ambition.

Early last year, Wachner was fired by Trinity before the church completed an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct against him, but after it found he had “otherwise conducted himself in a manner that is inconsistent with our expectations of anyone who occupies a leadership position.” (He has denied the allegations.)

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