Handel’s Agrippina at The Grange

Handel: Agrippina
Academy of Ancient Music, Robert Howarth
The Grange Festival, Hampshire. 16 June 2018

Handel’s Agrippina was first performed in 1709 during the Venice Carnival when he was just 23. It was towards the end of his three-year stay in Venice and used a considerable amount of borrowed material from Handel and other composers. It was an immediate success, with a further 26 performances, but was not revived again until modern times. It is now considered his first major operatic success. With its story of intrigue, rivalry, and deception in historic Rome, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani’s libretto for Agrippina is said to reflect his own political rivalry with Pope Clement XI. The plot tells of Agrippina’s ruthless plan to usurp her husband Emperor Claudius and place her son, the youthful Nerone, on the throne. The sexually provocative Poppea joins in the fray in a complex plan to undo Agrippina’ plot, not least in her attempts to discredit Ottone, who Claudius wants to create Emperor as a reward for saving his life. It certainly had many political and cultural undertones at the time, and perhaps still does today.

Stefanie True (Poppea)_Jonathan Best (Lesbo)_Handel's Agrippina_The Grange Festival 2018 ©Robert Workman.jpg

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Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 18 June 2017

The Grange, in Northington, Hampshire, achieved it current form in the early 19th century, when the architect William Wilkins (later to design the National Gallery) encased a 17th century house in grand Greek revival style. Further work by Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum, and Charles Robert Cockerell completed the scheme. It came to public notice in 1975 when the owners, a junior branch of the Baring banking family, attempted to demolish the building. The exterior was listed by the Government, on IMG_20170618_142530147.jpgaccount of its appearance and landscape importance, and placed into the guardianship of English Heritage, who instigated major restoration of the exterior of the building and opened the site to the public. It reached much wider appreciation in 1998 when the new Grange Park Opera took a 20 year lease from the Baring landlords, and started a summer opera season. In 2002 they built an award-winning new opera house within the shell of the old orangery, investing several million pounds in the project. They also did a considerable amount of work inside the shell of the building, including reinstating the dramatic staircase (pictured below). Disagreements with the Baring family led to Grange Park Opera decamping to a new home at the Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey, not surprisingly taking many of the internal fittings from their Grange opera house with them. Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: 40th Summer Festival

Spitalfields Music: 40th Summer Festival

WP_20160608_18_44_07_Pro.jpgSpitalfields Music has been an extraordinary musical and community success since its foundation 40 years ago. Starting life with a 1966 concert to help save Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architecturally important Christ Church Spitalfields (which was then, unbelievably, under threat of demolition) it soon grew into a ‘Summer Festival of Music’ led by Richard Hickox. Initially under the auspices of the Friends of Christ Church, it became an independent organisation and charity in 1989, setting up their continuing community and education programme two years later. Under the artistic and managerial leadership of the likes of Judith Serota, Michael Berkely, Judith Weir, Jonathan Dove, Diana Burrel, Abigail Pogson and the current Chief Executive, Eleanor Gussman, it has grown into an major musical and community force in London, sharing their passion for music with nearly half and million people, attracting more than 325,000 audience members to events in more than 70 venues in the Spitalfields and Tower Hamlets area. Alongside their Summer and Winter Festivals, they run an enormous Learning & Participation programme involved more than 125,000 people.

They have traditionally focussed on early and contemporary music, commissioning many new works from present day composers to create Continue reading

Royal Academy of Music: Early Music Prize

Royal Academy of Music
Nancy Nuttall Early Music Prize
RAM Duke’s Hall. 29th April 2016

The Royal Academy of Music’s annual early music prize has in recent years been known as the Nancy Nuttall Early Music Prize, rather than its earlier incarnation with the name of a sherry manufacturer who donated a crate of sherry to the winners. The competition is for groups of from 3 to 10 players playing music from before 1800 on historically appropriate instruments. The winning group receives £1,000. It is a few years since I have been able to get to this event, and the increase in the standard of performance, and in the number of performers, was noticeable. Around 24 young musicians appeared, with very little duplication within the six groups.

It started with one of those awkward reviewer moments when I realised that instead of arriving embarrassingly early for a 6pm start I was actually embarrassingly late for the 5pm start. So I missed the first two groups, although I Continue reading

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
Choir and Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Robert Howarth
Kings Place, 15 January 2016

Music by Monteverdi, Grandi, and Cavalli

The 2016 Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season will include some 45 concerts in a variety of formats. Opening the season in grand style were the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment in a spectacular programme of music from the very start of the Baroque era by Monteverdi, Grandi and Cavalli. “This is not the 1610 Vespers” warned conductor Robert Howarth at the start. Although retaining the structure of a Vespers service, the music was drawn from Monteverdi’s 1640/41 Selva morale e spirituale and the posthumous Messa e salmi of 1650.

The Vespers opened with the traditional Deus and Response, in the jubilant fanfare-like version written by Alessandro Grandi. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 3

‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square, 17  May 2015

The third day of the festival started with ‘Sing Baroque’, with Robert Howarth, one of the Robert HowarthOrchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s regular conductors, leading a Sunday morning workshop on the choral sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria – “for all aspiring Baroque singers – no experience necessary!”. This is certainly not the sort of event that should be reviewed, but I will comment on the experience of watching a conductor at work from the other side of the podium. Conducting styles vary by personality (and over historic time), but there is a generation of younger conductors who focus on using collaboration, cooperation and genuine good humour (rather than dictatorship or bullying) as the key to communicating their ideas. It was clear that Robert Howarth is one of those. As well as giving the gathered singers an excellent insight into the music and aspects of performing it, Robert Howarth also made it an extremely entertaining occasion. Music’s gain is stand-up comedy’s loss.

The Sunday afternoon included a guided tour of The Wallace Collection exploring ‘Music, Dance and Gallentry in 18th-century French Art’, followed by a concert focusing on the harpsichord music of Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) given by Béatrice Martin. Continue reading