St. George, Hanover Square

Handel’s church in Hanover Square

Mid-December is a great time to be in London, where Christmas is taken very seriously. It’s impossible to navigate around the city without bumping into carol singers, twinkling lights or “drinks parties”, and there’s plenty of sumptuous music going on. I heard the choir of Westminster Abbey sing a Christmas concert to a sold out crowd of about 2000, a dress rehearsal at Handel House of Messiah performed by my friends Trevor and Gitai, I Fagiolini singing “The Little Match Girl Passion” by David Lang at the Spitalfields festival, Paul MacCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort with Britten’s “A boy was born” and modern carols, and a concert in the Actor’s Church, Covent Garden. There was plenty of church music too: Wednesday evensong with the men of St. Paul’s cathedral, a six-voice women’s ensemble singing at the Temple Church, and Sunday morning mass at Handel’s own church (pictured here) in Hanover Square that was a pleasant surprise – a high church with bells and incense – not what Handel would have experienced.

The real reason for my visit to London was to hear my own composition “The Portinari Nativity” sung by Ex Cathedra Choir at St. John’s Smith Square. Jeffrey Skidmore programmed a beautiful seasonal concert, with many carols and readings strung together in a seamless work of theatre, and of course sung in flawless British choral fashion. Cori Martin’s poem “Christmas Cattle” was also presented as one of the readings, and it was very well received, as was her poetry for the Portinari carol. It was a real pleasure to meet the movers and shakers behind the incredible organization that is Ex Cathedra. They are an ensemble I greatly admire, not only for their exquisite music-making, but for their excellent work in the community bringing the joy and healing power of singing to the children of Birmingham.

After my friends Janet and Renee left town I had one remaining task: to visit the British Library and spend some time alone with Handel’s autograph score of Solomon. You can imagine it’s an exciting and moving experience to turn the pages of the score where Handel poured out his vigorous musical thoughts on to fragile paper. Handling an object almost 300 years old is a terrifying privilege. But more of a privilege will be hearing the music begin to leap off the page as we start our working rehearsals on Monday night with Pax Christi Chorale.



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6 Responses to Six days in London

  1. Leonard Ratzlaff says:

    Thanks for your interesting report on your trip filled with so many riches. It reminded me of the incredible 3 months I was able to spend living in Oxford on a sabbatical just over 10 years ago, with several trips a week in to London to hear and see so many beautiful performances. Will this piece be published soon, and if so, by whom? Would love to get a copy to peruse for future use.

    • Stephanie Martin says:

      So you know what I mean about London! So much to hear and see, and so many layers of history to absorb. I’m looking forward to going back this summer for a Canterbury pilgrimage with my poet sister. The Portinari Nativity is on the waiting list with Cypress Choral Music. It might be some time before it appears on the official docket, so I will happily send you a PDF : )
      All the best for 2013

  2. Brian Power says:

    Steph – your experience at the BL reminds me vividly of my own there years ago with the Old Hall Manuscript. No amount of work with a microfilm or a facsimile (even a colour one) can prepare you for the reality of working with the original document -ink stains, erasures and all.
    I learned a great deal about pieces I thought I already knew well. I’ll be very interested to hear whether your examination of the Solomon autograph revealed anything that will make its way into your interpretation of the work with Pax this term. A wonderful opportunity for a conductor! -BP

    • Stephanie Martin says:

      Yes Brian, I do feel I learned a lot from looking at the autograph score. There’s so much information it’s pretty mind boggling, a lot of annotations in someone else’s hand writing. Who? Lots of unexpected dynamic markings like ffff scratched in presumably by a conductor, not Handel, and “senza ripieno” markings which are interesting. I hope some of it trickles down to rehearsal tonight as we crack the scores open for the first time.

  3. Mary Gillmeister says:

    I do love this idea of you poring over Handel’s autograph score of Solomon. No doubt those of us here in Toronto will be able to enjoy some of the fruits of that labour at the performance in April. I am looking forward already!

    • Stephanie Martin says:

      We have a pretty stellar line up of soloists. The choral parts are for the most part for double choir so that’s exciting. We had hoped also to involve about 50 high school singers. We’ll have to watch the TDSB labour dispute to see if this will be possible. At any rate, Jean Stilwell as Solomon should be a knock out! See you April 20/21.

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