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March 2018 Blog

Festival Director, Samir Savant, explains more about the theme for this year's London Handel Festival: "Handel in London" and about Handel's life in the capital.

Tell us more about this year's theme

This year's theme is 'Handel in London' exploring not just all the glorious music Handel wrote while he lived in London, which was for most of his adult life, but his wider role in Georgian Society - his enterpreneurial character, his philanthropy and his commerical acumen.

What are the highlight’s of this year’s programme?

We are packing more than ever into one month this year - with events nearly every day and many days with two events. We have grand opera - a special staging of Acis and Galatea in its 300th anniversary year, Giulio Cesare and the lesser known Amadigi and Teseo, we have intimate chamber music recitals, we have guided walks and a film screening, and new this year, we have special talks from experts on Handel's health at the Royal Society of Medicine and Handel's investments at the Bank of England.  Many of our events are at St.George's, Hanover Square, but we are expanding to include different venues, many of which have special associations with Handel and historic connections with London. 

Why is St George’s a special place for Handel?

This is the church in heart of London's Mayfair where Handel worshipped, near to his home at Brook Street.  He was an active member of the congregation here, and it's amazing to think that Handel's feet walked across the very floor where we can still stand today.  The church is named after St.George, the patron saint of England, and is near to Hanover Square, named after the dynasty of German Hanoverian monarchs for whom Handel wrote his famous Coronation Anthems - so as a parishioner here he was being both patriotic and loyal to the Crown!

What made Handel come to London?

Many people think that Handel came here primarily to be in the service of the new Hanoverian monarchs - George I became King of England in 1714 following the death of Queen Anne.  Handel did indeed write for the Hanoverians - including his famous Water Music and the Dettingen Te Deum, both of which we are performing in this year's Festival.  But he had already arrived in London in 1712, two years before George I, so it was not just about royal patronage. Handel recognised that London was a thriving commercial capital with a cosmopolitan society, and a good place to use as his base where he could start promoting his music.

What was Handel’s impact on London society at the time?

Handel's impact was huge - he was very much the talk of the town for several decades. He spoke five languages, had refined tastes and mixed easily with the sophisticated aristocrats here.  Furthermore, he recognised that the burgeoning middle classes had a growing taste for high art, and his operas became very popular indeed - they could not get enough of the exotic characters, intriguing castrati and tempestuous Italian divas!  In 1727 Handel was made a British citizen by act of parliament in order to write the music for the coronation of George II - he wrote his stunning Coronation Anthems, one of these, Zadok the Priest has been performed at every coronation since.

What can you tell me about Handel as an entrepreneur?

Handel was very astute financially.  He was a canny investor, and had an account at the Bank of England which he checked on a regular basis.  We have a special talk here during the Festival at the Bank's museum given by academic expert, Ellen Harris, about Handel's investments.  For example, he invested in the infamous South Sea bubble, but got out just before the whole thing collapsed, so was either lucky or had very good advice!

What can you tell us about Handel as a philanthropist?

Handel was also a very generous man, and used his wealth to support others.  He was a governor at the Foundling Hospital, which was an orphanage for abandoned children, called 'foundlings' in Georgian times.  He wrote the Foundling Hospital Anthem which was performed to raise funds for the charity, and he also mounted performances of Messiah as a benefit, and raised the equivalent of over a million pounds - so this was an eighteenth century precursor to Live Aid.  We have a special 'Come and Sing' performance of the Foundling Anthem to start the Festival on 17 March, and then the next day you can hear talented young singers from King's College, London perform the work and listen to a talk about Handel's philanthropy by Katherine Hogg, the curator of the Gerald Coke Handel collection at the Foundling Museum - click here for more details.

The Fitzrovia Chapel is a new venue in this year's Festival, what can you tell us about it?

I am thrilled that we are performing at the gorgeous Fitzrovia Chapel.  It was part of the old Middlesex Hospital but has recently undergone refurbishment and today is used for special events.  It is the most exquisite venue - lots of gold and marble everythere, I urge you to have a look at the pictures here.  We are planning a lovely recital here with two of the finalists from last year's Handel Singing Competition - Marcjanna Myrlak, our outright winner, and Jungkwon Jang, who won our Audience Prize. They will be accompanied by Laurence Cummings on the harpsichord.

Tell us more about the Handel Singing Competition

The competition is internationally acclaimed and now in its 16th year.  There are over 100 people from all over the world who apply every year, and we have just 5 finalists - so good luck to everyone who has applied this year!  The jury for the Final will be chaired by distinguished tenor, John Mark Ainsley.  All of the finalists receive cash prizes and are also invited back to perform lunchtime recitals the following year, so please do come and support them.  Our finalists are booked as soloists for many years to come - this year's Festival for example has no fewer than 20 past finalists making star appearances.  Past finalists have gone on to amazing success, including Iestyn Davies, Lucy Crowe and Ruby Hughes (who has her own concert based on repertoire sung by Giulia Frasi, one of Handel's favourite sopranos, in this year's Festival).

Handel loved to nurture young talent, and I like to think we are continuing this tradition today through the Handel Singing Competition.  In fact, Handel's young singers were referred to as 'Mr Handel's Scholars' and we have a special concert with the very same name at St.George's, Hanover Square which showcases the talents of four previous finalists from the competition, singing their favourite Handel works with the glorious accompaniment of the London Handel Orchestra under the direction of Laurence Cummings, our Musical Director.

How can we book tickets for the London Handel Festival?

That's really simple - just click here!


London Handel Festival

London Handel Society
PO Box 79,
TA19 9WP


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