With a new season comes a new set of songs, or oratorios in the case of the Oratorio Society of New Jersey, as it gears up for its annual spring concert on Saturday, April 29, at Union Congregational Church. 

The audience will have the chance to hear not only the choral group but also four soloists: Nate Mattingly, Christopher Lucier, Nani Fueting and Chelsea Friedlander.

The performance is a continuation of the celebration of the society’s 70th anniversary season and will feature “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace" by Karl Jenkins and “Coronation Anthem No. 1: Zadok the Priest" by Georg Frideric Handel. 

The group’s members hope the concert is more than a time for listeners to soak up the resonance of the choir: They would like it to be a reminder that music, like art, imitates life. 

“We try to always be relevant to the times,” Music Director Sándor Szabó said. In “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace,” Jenkins commemorates the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st at the request of the Royal Armories Museum in England. 

“The idea of the piece is to communicate the hope of moving from the most war-torn century of human history toward a more peaceful century, a hope that remains challenged by today’s current events,” a spokesperson for the Oratorio Society said. 

For Szabó, not only did he choose the oratorio to be a call for peace in light of the war between Russia and Ukraine, it also served as a bittersweet reminder of his childhood.

“I come from a country which was torn apart by these politics,” he said. Szabó is originally from Yugoslavia, a country that had its own long history with war. 

“I have many friends of different nationalities, and it was unbelievably sad to see all of them being separated by this war, and Yugoslavia was one of the rare nations which had Muslims, Orthodox Christians, all nationalities almost, all this big faith all in one, and then when the war came all that was destroyed,” he said. 

Szabó cites different religious and cultural traditions in Jenkins’ piece that create a “beautiful mixture of many different styles.” The oratorio employs elements of the traditional Latin Mass and of folk melodies, the Muslim call to prayer and Gregorian chant. Jenkins also incorporates lines from the Hindu book of Mahabharata and works by English poets such as John Dryden. 

“The music in this piece is trying to unite. It will say, ‘Hey, this is bad, the war is bad, and we want peace,’ so it was really pro-peace,” Szabó said.

Alongside Jenkins’ work, the society will be performing a piece by one of the most notable composers, Handel, who is widely known for his “Messiah” oratorio that the group performs during the holiday season. 

For the spring performance, the audience will get a preview of a musical work that will most likely be performed at the coronation of England’s new monarch, King Charles III, on May 6.  “Coronation Anthem No. 1: Zadok the Priest” has been played at every British coronation since 1727. The oratorio includes the famous lyrics for “God Save the King” and “Long Live the King.” 

Helen Paxton, a longtime member of the society, said, “Handel specifically wrote this piece for the procession in Westminster Abbey. So he took into account the amazing acoustics of that huge cathedral… We don't have that to perform in, but it still has a marvelous effect, and you can really admire his genius, his kind of theatrical genius in this case.” 

John Willard, another member of the society, said, “From the standpoint of choral music as a public occasion, bringing Handel into this concert felt like an appropriate thing to do as we celebrate those 70 years of performing for Montclair and the Essex County community.” 

As the group continues to get back into the routine of in-person performances, it is looking for new people who are eager to lend their voices to the society. It is open to all and does not require auditions, but it prefers that members have some type of musical experience, like knowing how to read sheet music. 

“There's not too many other amateur activities that you can do, where you have the thrill of coming together and performing for the public and doing it at a professional level,” Willard said.

Tickets for the spring concert, which is at 8 p.m. at the church, 176 Cooper Ave., are $25 and can be purchased at oratoriosocietynj.org