Nearly 2,000 people packed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Statesboro recently to experience the soaring oratorio "Elijah."
Dr. Shannon Jeffries with the Department of Music at Georgia Southern University conducted the performance of Felix Mendelssohn's last work, which included a cast of university professors and was accompanied by local choral ensembles.
A musical recounting of the Prophet Elijah's battle against the followers of the god Baal as described in 1st and 2nd Kings in the New Testament of the Bible, the concert was performed by the most accomplished singers and musicians from all around Bulloch County.
Starring as Elijah was Dr. Allen Henderson, supported by mezzo-sopranos Arikka Gregory and Sarah Hancock and soprano Kelly Balmaceda, all with Georgia Southern, and guest tenor Jonathan Murphy. A special solo performance was given by 8-year-old soprano Spencer Boyum.
Choral accompaniment was provided by the combined Georgia Southern Chorale, the Georgia Southern University Singers, the Southeast Bulloch High School Advanced Chorus and the Statesboro Youth Chorale. Music accompaniment was provided by the Georgia Southern Symphony.
Bulloch County resident Debbie Fordham, whose two children, Hannah and Eli, are members of the Statesboro Youth Chorale, said "Elijah" was Eli's first public performance. She was particularly grateful for the opportunities her children were given as young singers.
Will and Brenda Henderson, parents of Dr. Henderson, also were in attendance. They had traveled from Knoxville, Tenn., to see the performance of not only their son but their grandson, Clark, who also was performing in "Elijah" as a member of the Statesboro Youth Chorale.
“We are so proud of our son, both for his musical talent and just as a human being," Will Henderson said.
"The work of all the performers was truly remarkable, and the overall quality of the production was marvelous," Brenda Henderson said.
"Elijah" was written by Mendelssohn for the Birmingham England music festival in 1846, and he died shortly after the performance in Birmingham.
Sarah Hancock, who is also the director of the Statesboro Youth Chorale, said her group’s song "Lift Thine Eye" was the most difficult piece of music her middle school students ever had attempted.
Likewise, Brent Whitaker, director of Choral Activities at Southeast Bulloch High School, said that his advanced chorus was very lucky, for "with both a full orchestra and over 150 singers, this was being done on such a grand scale. Few high school students would ever have an opportunity to be part of such a remarkable professional production."
After the concert, Dr. Jeffries said: “I am thrilled with the performance and the overwhelming community support. I am thankful for the collaboration between the university and community organizations. I believe our students made memories for themselves and their audience.”