The "Messiah" is coming and Toccata is staying |

The "Messiah" is coming and Toccata is staying

The Christmas sounds of “Messiah” resonating around the lake are a harbinger of a new season for a community orchestra that is here for good.

While Toccata – The Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area – began five years ago as Director James Rawie’s second project, today it’s clearly No. 1.

“Ninety five percent of my cookies are in this Lake Tahoe basket,” Rawie said. “Many (businesses are struggling), but Toccata is almost doubling every year. We’re getting more clout. We’re getting more donations.”

Rawie in 1982 founded the Puerto Rico Chamber Orchestra and the Symphonic Chorus of Puerto Rico. But those companies are shrinking along with the economy, down from 20 concerts a year to nine in 2009, and just five projected in 2010.

With family in Tahoe where winter sports and summer triathlon training areas are ideal, Rawie began Toccata in the same fashion of the Puerto Rico programs.

“I started a small chorus and needed an orchestra and for big occasions they morphed into symphony orchestra,” said Rawie, who discovered ample talent in the Sierra Nevada. “We’ve got Class A soloists who live right here, and the reason Toccata makes it is there are singers who don’t have the time to drive down and try to duke it out trying to make the roles in Reno.”

The first of four “Messiah” performances will be in St. Theresa Catholic Church at South Shore, which is the home of 12 Toccata singers and five orchestra members. Toccata also annually performs three summer concerts at Valhalla on the Tallac Historic Site.

Toccata’s first CD, “Baroque Christmas,” will be introduced at the St. Theresa appearance. The live recordings were made at Reno’s Trinity Church and at the South Lake Tahoe venue, large enough to house a 50-piece orchestra.

“Some of our best music has been produced in St. Theresa,” Rawie said. “Acoustically, it’s my favorite environment so far for Tahoe symphony.”

A second CD, “Introducing Toccata,” featuring Beethoven’s symphony and Brahms’ requiem will be released soon.

“Messiah,” one of the most popular works in Western choral literature, was first performed in Dublin, Ireland on March 23, 1742, and is Handel’s best-known concerto.

Joining the Tahoe Chamber Orchestra and Chorus are sopranos Tammy Brock, Joy Strotz and Anna Helwing, mezzo sopranos Marianne Ashley and Susan Benefield, tenors Andy Sonnemaker and John Hutto and baritone Stuart Duke .

The Tahoe Chamber Orchestra features Virginia Bowman as concertmaster, David Brock, Ben Benson and Ben Wallek as continuos and Mark Lord and William Van Meter on Baroque trumpets.

“Messiah” also will be performed in Reno, Squaw Creek, Carson City and for a newly added date in Tahoe City.

Toccata will present “Borocco con Cocoa” in January, “Bach & Bruch” in February and “St. Matthew Passion” March 28-April 3.

The Dec. 22 “Messiah” concert will be in the new Carson City Capital Christian Center and include approximately 180 chorus members, including the Carson High School Concert Choir and about 40 alumni. Forty percent of the proceeds will go toward for the school choir’s traveling expenses.

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