UK Artist, Richard Grayson sent an email to a bunch of country rock musicians from Erskinville, Sydney to see if they would rewrite and perform Handel’s Messiah for no money.
How could they refuse? The resulting video work, Messiah, 2004 transforms George Fredric Handel’s 1742 Oratorio, ‘The Messiah’ for the Sydney Biennale.
In the work, Australian band “The Midnight Amblers” present a country rock interpretation with scary fundamentalist overtones, effectively recalling it from the ‘high culture’ of choirs and classical recitals into a hoe-down offering.
Richard discusses Messiah, aliens and his curiosities and observations about the way the world works.
In October 2003, Richard Grayson approached the Australian Country and Western Band The Midnight Amblers to collaborate on a project re-arranging and performing the libretto to Handel’s 1742 Oratorio ‘The Messiah’. The dual projection video work Messiah is the end result.
The text, written and assembled by Charles Jennens was created to support the idea that Jesus Christ was indeed the person anticipated by the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, not an event that rendered such prophecy void.
The Band has written tunes around these words that only fleetingly make reference to the original melodies – ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ for instance – and which use instead the languages of country rock.
Born 1958 in Morcambe, England
Lives and works in London, England
MESSIAH – Richard Grayson with The Midnight Amblers
A dual video projection, 1 hour 10 minute loop. 2004
“IF GOD BE FOR US WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?”
In 2003, Richard Grayson approached the Australian Country and Western Band The Midnight Amblers to collaborate on re-arranging and performing the libretto of Handel’s Oratorio ‘The Messiah’. Grayson’s dual projection video MESSIAH is the outcome. Shifted from the matrix of classical music into that of country rock and blue grass, the lyrics, written by Charles Jennens in 1742, become strangely familiar, as if quoted from recent speeches by Tony Blair or George Bush.
Words from the libretto caption the Amblers apparently redneck image, but any seamless match between what we see and what we hear is undermined by the artist’s editorial sleight of hand. The music is beguiling, but instead of Good Tidings, Grayson’s MESSIAH brings us doubt – about current World Leaders who cast themselves as Saviours and a belief system used to justify extreme right wing political and social policies and American and British foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle East. Jennen’s libretto for Handel’s iconic celebration of the moment of Christian Redemption – Christmas – in Grayson’s MESSIAH, becomes an ironic meditation on the destructive folly of fundamentalism.
The Messiah’ holds a central place in British culture, being listened to and performed by many in choirs and events around the country. By taking the words out of the matrix of classical music, they are made strange and magical again, rather than merely a distant component of ‘high culture’.
This serves to reanimate them as an expression of a supernatural belief system: one which is now shaping significant social and political policy in the United States through the Christian Right, as well as helping directly shape certain expressions of American foreign policy in the Middle East. 42% of Americans describe themselves as ‘born again’ and 82% believe in miracles. Political ideology rooted in Enlightenment ideals of rationality is being eroded and replaced by Theology. In Australia the Christian Family First party has just helped secure the return of the conservative party of John Howard. In Tony Blair Britain has one of the most overtly ‘Christian’ prime-ministers since Gladstone.