mon 17/06/2024

First Person: conductor Harry Bicket on filming the complete Handel for The English Concert's big new project | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: conductor Harry Bicket on filming the complete Handel for The English Concert's big new project

First Person: conductor Harry Bicket on filming the complete Handel for The English Concert's big new project

On creating 'Handel for All', a free online resource featuring top performances

Harry Bicket conducting the English Concert during the stunning performance of 'Serse' at St Martin-in-the-Fields

Of the many questions we asked ourselves during lockdown, I suspect that many of us looked at our lives and professions and asked, “Why?”.

Perhaps a period of forced introspection is a positive thing if it helps clarify what is truly important and what isn’t. For musicians, whose work is by definition a communal event, it was a strange period; endless time to practise and study, but with apparently nothing to practise and study for. Many groups understandably decided to hunker down and reduce their activities and ambitions. The English Concert had a different concept: if our world was about to collapse, what would be the thing that we would most regret not having done?

The work of Handel has already become the backbone of the orchestra, both in our annual Handel opera or oratorio that we tour all over the world ending in Carnegie Hall, as well as in our recordings and in the opera pit, this year Ariodante at the Opera Garnier in Paris. Through Handel’s incredible music, we found an answer to our question and the beginning of a bold and ambitious journey. Harry BicketBut this is no vanity project. Handel, along with Purcell, is Britain’s most celebrated composer and yet why do we not celebrate him in the way the Germans celebrate Bach, Mozart or Beethoven? How many of the wider public know him for other than Messiah, the Water Music, or Music for the Royal Fireworks?

Handel for All will see us build a new legacy for the composer. In filming every single piece of Handel’s music, we will create a free and accessible online resource for everyone: featuring vivid and engaging performances, knowledge and insight from Handel experts, and an opportunity for all to discover the treasure trove of musical delights that Handel left us with. Wigmore HandelIn these unprecedented times that we find ourselves in, it is vital that we offer young people access to classical music and help to nurture the audiences of both today and tomorrow. In addition to this resource, we hope to build sessions that can be used in schools and at home, allowing for the musicians of tomorrow to engage in Handel’s works in the best way possible – through performing them. In the creation of Handel for All, we hope to provide generations with access to content of the highest quality.

The ability to stream performances from and to anywhere in the world has opened up a new opportunity for all of us. The way we consume music has changed. A free online library of all of Handel’s works with one of the great period orchestras and some of the finest Handelian singers of our times is one way to reach out to new audiences. Filming SerseBut Handel was much more than this; a fascinating chameleon who dined with royalty and was a master politician himself, yet who cared deeply about social injustice and left his entire fortune to the Foundling Hospital. Through our education work, we can show this story to be a metaphor for a musician’s role in society. Of course, we are entertainers; but we believe that music has the power to inspire, console and heal and is an essential part of what it means to be human.

One of my favourite Handel quotes is when he was complimented on how entertained the audience of Messiah had been, and he replied: “I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better”.

Hopefully we can do both.

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