Guest / Limited Access /

Click here to listen to this editorial.

Maestro John Nelson left Shanghai shortly after directing Handel's Messiah in 2006. Most of the audience members had loved it, Nelson said, although neither the English words nor a translation had been in their programs. "The force of the text must have come through," Nelson said. During the Hallelujah Chorus, "the audience rose to its feet and stomped and clapped and even screamed.

"The government officials that were there sitting with the [Shanghai opera] music director did not stand up," Nelson said. While driving Nelson to the airport, the music director told him of an even more surprising response to the performance: "My wife was sitting next to me and said, 'I think I saw God when I was listening to this music.'"

Amid post-Olympics shifts in China's attitude toward the West, the government decided that sacred music should disappear. "Quietly and without publicity, the Chinese authorities have let it be known that Western religious music should no longer be performed in concert halls. It's an unexpected decision, and one for which there is no obvious explanation or trigger," Catherine Sampson wrote in The Guardian. Even things that merely seem like Western sacred music — including Carl Orff's decidedly unsacred Carmina Burana — have been stopped.

The ban may not last long, but it highlights the dual ambassadorship of religious art. Is an audience thoroughly engaged in Messiah a challenge to worldly authority? Is it worship? A threat to a secular Christmas? Part of a secular Christmas?

...

Nelson is Directeur Musical Honoraire of the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and artistic director of Soli Deo Gloria, which commissions and otherwise tries to cultivate contemporary sacred ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedClothing Matters: What We Wear to Church
Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church
Why what we put on may be more important than we think.
TrendingNew Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies
New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies
Survey finds many American evangelicals hold unorthodox views on the Trinity, salvation, and other doctrines.
Editor's PickSaying Goodbye for Good
Saying Goodbye for Good
How to bid farewell as though our bodies mattered.
Comments
Christianity Today
That Controversial 'Messiah'
hide thisDecember December

In the Magazine

December 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.