Thanks to an auspicious conjunction of anniversaries, 2009 seems to be a memorable year for Baroque lovers.
The century from the birth of Purcell to the death of Handel inspired the forthcoming Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music.
With 1659-1759: 100 Years of English Genius, the 2009 edition of the Festival aims to celebrate this golden period, exploiting unique venues such as St John's, Smith Square, close to Westminster Abbey, where Purcell was organist.
Since the first 1984 edition, the Lufthansa Festival has represented a distinctive forum for period music. Now, in its 25th year, it confirms this exclusive tradition. In fact, from 14 to 23 May, international soloists and ensembles will bring masterpieces and lesser-known works to the stage within the context of the only British festival entirely dedicated to Baroque music.
It is impossible to list the events taking place in May at St John's. The opening concert, featuring Simone Kermes, Iestyn Davies and James Gilchrist, is surely remarkable. These artists will perform Handel's Athalia, supported by Concerto Köln and the Festival's Musical Director Ivor Bolton.
The artists involved in the Festival are all amongst the finest interpreters of the Baroque repertoire. On 15 May, leading period-instrument violinist Rachel Podger will give a recital of Handel, Geminiani, Chlicott and Arne's chamber airs with harpsichordist Gary Cooper. A few days later, on 17 May, Robin Blaze will be on stage together with violinist Monica Huggett and Sonnerie ensemble.
Another highlight takes place on 21 May. In the event titled '150 years of English song', Emma Kirkby, together with Jakob Lindberg (lute & theorbo) and Steven Devine (harpsichord), will perform music by Dowland, Lawes, Purcell and Greene.
Although being the heart of the Festival, Handel and Purcell won't be the only focus of the concerts at St John's. For instance, sacred songs and psalm-settings by Lawes and others are programmed on 17 May. These pieces, conducted by Kah-Ming Ng, will be performed by Rodrigo del Pozo (tenor) and Charivari Agréable ensemble. In addition, on 22 May Laurence Dreyfus will lead a journey through the English viol consort, with music by Parsons, Byrd, Gibbons, Jenkins, Lawes and Purcell.
The Festival has also always promoted unjustly neglected composers. This year, an exceptional cast will take on the rediscovery of John Eccles' The Judgement of Paris. On 16 May, Eccles' work will be performed by the Early Opera Company under Christian Curnyn, with Lucy Crowe, Susan Bickley and Roderick Williams.
Encouraging people to approach Baroque music and making it available to a wide audience is one of the aims of the Festival. For this reason, the two performances at 9.30 are free to under-25s. The programme for these two concerts is particularly interesting. The first one, on 15 May, includes popular music from Purcell's London, featuring Vivien Ellis (voice) and Giles Lewin (fiddle). On the other hand, the programme for the second concert (22 May) lists music for lute consort from the Jacobean court, in a performance directed by Lynda Sayce with the Chordophony ensemble.
St. John's, Smith Square, is the main venue for this Baroque feast. Yet Westminster Abbey will be the magnificent frame for further notable concerts. For instance, on 20 May the Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James's Baroque will engage in choral works for royal occasions by Purcell and Handel, including My heart is inditing and Zadok the Priest. The concert will be conducted by James O'Donnell, organist and Master of the Choristers.
Another brilliant initiative is proposed by the organizers: Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre and former Director of the BBC Proms, will inaugurate the Festival with a lecture on Baroque music-making in London over the past 25 years and further related topics. One of the most important figures in the London musical panorama, Kenyon has also served as editor of Early Music magazine for nine years; his contribution to the Festival makes of it a very special event.
Artistic Director Lindsay Kemp comments on the fundamental role the Festival had on the spread and rediscovery of Baroque music: '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. […] Indeed, it is one of the wonders of Baroque music that it can still sound so new.'
All tickets for the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music must be booked through the Box Office at St John's, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA, tel: 020 7222 1061; website: www.sjss.org.uk.
This is not a comprehensive list of the Festival events. For further information, visitSt John's, Smith Square website.
Photo: Ivor Bolton (musical director of the Festival)
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