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Hear more, feel more, get close

Handel wrote his sacred opera Messiah in 1741. Approaching 300 years later, British conductor Nicholas Little is preparing to mount it at London’s beautiful Porchester Hall, complete with full choir and orchestra.

“I’ve always wanted to do this but in the past I was put off by the length – 2 and a half hours!”, Nicholas explains. He has ‘solved’ this by presenting the opera, or oratorio, as it is commonly known (no on-stage dramatic action) in separate parts – this weekend concert-goers will get to see / hear Parts 2 and 3 – plus storytelling and handholding around the music to help the audience into the show.

“Typically, at the beginning I dive into the history and stories surrounding the particular music we are performing, and/or the life and times of the composer. So in this case we are winding back to the early 18th century and looking at Handel’s impact when he arrived in London, started writing Italian opera and then gradually began writing these hybrid sacred works - of which Messiah is one.”

Handel’s Messiah is not, commonly, presented in this way. Certainly, a concert-goer isn’t usually offered a bespoke cocktail plus couch on arrival at a performance, but Nicholas’ Little Orchestra, or “The Little O”, as he likes to call it, is on a mission to make classical music accessible and fun; concert-goers get to drink and chat, after the concert, with himself and his musicians, while singers entertain them with Italian arias of the like that influenced Handel when he was writing his Messiah.

‘We call this part of the evening the post-concert soiree and our aim is to continue the stories that were begun in the main concert. Handel’s ability to write these sacred operas emerged during his long career in London writing opera - at a certain point in writing Italian operas he started doing these English sacred operas. We thought it would be really fun to give people a bit of a taste of this long and illustrious career writing Italian opera.

“Hear more, feel more, get close” is the Little Orchestra’s motto. It’s something that has evolved through Nicholas' rich and wide-ranging career in filmmaking, conducting and composing; putting on the most elevated forms of music – composers range from Beethoven and Vivaldi to Handel – in intimate, personal settings where audience members can sit so close to the players that they almost feel part of the music-making experience. “Orchestral music, for me, above all other art forms, expresses the full range and depth of human emotions. In essence I want to share my delight for it with others.”

The key to the Little Orchestra’s success is that its conductor also plays the role of compere. “I take nothing for granted - I’m working on the basis that, beyond a couple of familiar tunes, most people don’t know the Messiah. That’s what’s exciting to me – helping them discover it. And also for people to come away with some insight and clarity on a piece of music’s nature, purpose and context.” So an audience member leaves not only with a rich new sound world buzzing through their being, but an enlightened sense of history; what was happening in 18th century Britain to cause a composer of Italian opera to sit down and write an English language choral work about the life and times of Jesus Christ?

As well as the performances at West London’s Porchester Hall, the Little Orchestra are doing a ‘stripped-back’ version at Cecil Sharp House; just the music and storytelling, here, and for just a tenner!

It’s an endeavour that is glorious and irresistible – put on the best possible music that has been written in the history of man, and break it down for new ears. Handel would be delighted.

Messiah Parts 2 and 3, 7 & 8 June, Porchester Hall, 6.30pm
Messiah Parts 2 and 3 – Informal Concert – 6 June, Cecil Sharp House, 7pm

thelittleboxoffice.com

Copyright Nicola Christie. June 4, 2019.