Although historically informed Baroque performance practice was thriving when the Lufthansa Festival was born back in 1984, few could have foreseen then how its scope and currency would grow over the next twenty-five years.
This year, with ’1659-1759: 100 Years of English Genius’ the festival salutes one of the most illustrious periods in English music which begins with the birth of Henry Purcell and ends with the death of Handel. The Festival’s main venue, St John’s, Smith Square, built in 1728, is close to Westminster Abbey, where Purcell was organist, and a stone’s throw from the Thames, famously the setting for Handel’s Water Music in 1717. The Festival promises to illuminate a golden period, which brought an explosion of talent around the Chapel Royal after the fall of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the theatrical vigour of the Restoration, and the elegance and animation of the Georgian age.
Artistic Director of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, Lindsay Kemp said, “I have been attending the Lufthansa Festival almost since it started in 1984. It has always led the way in inviting top baroque musicians from overseas to this country, introducing new faces and new approaches to performing, and playing a vital part in enriching our appreciation of baroque repertoire. Even now, there are still many great works by Baroque composers familiar and unfamiliar waiting to be rediscovered, and new ways of performing them waiting to be tried. Indeed, it is one of the wonders of Baroque music that it can still sound so new.”
From 14th to 23rd May at St John’s Smith Square, the Festival will offer chamber music, songs, orchestral suites and theatrical spectacles by Purcell and Handel, while on 20th May Westminster Abbey itself will resound to anthems by the two composers, performed by the Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James’s Baroque under James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers. Other English composers to feature in the course of the Festival will include Lawes, Jenkins, Locke, Blow, Arne, Greene and Eccles, whose The Judgement of Paris, an early English opera, will be performed by Early Opera Company under Christian Curnyn, with Lucy Crowe, Susan Bickley and Roderick Williams among the starry cast.
Other singers appearing in the course of the Festival include Simone Kermes, Iestyn Davies and James Gilchrist in Handel’s Athalia, the opening event, in the company of Concerto Kln and the Festival’s Musical Director Ivor Bolton; Emma Kirkby in a programme of song, and Robin Blaze, performing with violinist Monica Huggett and Sonnerie.
Another leading period-instrument violinist, Rachel Podger, gives a recital of Handel, Geminiani, Chlicott and Arne with harpsichordist Gary Cooper. Further ensembles include Alva and Chordophony both presenting late concerts at 9.30pm with free entry for people under 25, The Harp Consort, Charivari Agrable, Phantasm, and the Zefiro Baroque Orchestra, directed by Alfredo Bernadini in ‘Music by the River’; suitably enough, the programme includes the three Water Music suites, and the concert will be preceded by an afternoon boat trip tracing King George I’s aquatic progress from Whitehall to Chelsea.
All in all this is an exciting, innovative programme that should set the seal on a happy and memorable silver jubilee for the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music.
Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2009, St Johns Smith Square & Westminster Abbey, London SW1. 14 May 23 May. Box Office: 020 7222 1061.