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Baroque is back and biblical at the Spitalfields Music Festival

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Baroque is back and biblical at the Spitalfields Music Festival


A bevy of singers and musicians are busy warming up in East London for the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival. Caiti Grove talks to David Bates, the director of La Nuova Musica, about their performance on 4 June.



La Nuova Musica © Ben Ealovega


‘We have a crack team of seriously knowledgeable performers, which is lucky – a piece of music is just a series of dots and dashes until it comes off the page’. David Bates, director of La Nuova Musica, is confident about their imminent performance, but the scale of the challenge cannot have eluded him. On Thursday 4 June, the group début their version of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, an epic work that recounts the Biblical scourge of God – plagues, a river of blood and a colony of frogs inflicted on the Egyptians as punishment for their treatment of the Israelites, before their captives are finally freed and walk through the parted waves of the Red Sea. David Bates is determined to keep the biblical, narrative-driven work faithful to Handel’s original intentions. ‘We are completely devoted to Baroque music and its potential for emotional impact, and this is no exception,’ he explains proudly.

His crack musical team has no chance of staying undercover – altogether they are a vast team of 60 players and singers. The scale of his company makes his ambition for the work very much an achievable goal. He wants it to be as visceral and dramatic as Ridley Scott’s account of the epic story in Exodus: Gods and Kings. ‘We want to hit listeners between the eyes, if that’s not too graphic a metaphor,’ he says.

Baroque music is a highly distinctive and recognisable genre. It lasted between 1600 and 1750 and was hugely popular all over Europe. Handel emerged as one of its most flamboyant and successful proponents. German by birth, he came to London where he was hugely feted and famously provided the music to accompany many royal events of the time, the most celebrated of which was his Water Music, set on the Thames before its regal patrons.

However, until about 30 years ago, Baroque music was undervalued and rarely performed apart from excerpts of Handel’s famous classic The Messiah.

La Nuova Musica, formed by Bates in 2007, has capitalised on the movement’s growing popularity – an era that is constantly being rediscovered and explored. ‘There are hundreds of operas sitting in libraries’ he explains, ‘lying dormant, waiting to be performed. The scope of the works hitherto neglected is a wonderful and enormously exciting prospect for all of us.’

La Musica Nuova is especially thrilled to have Spitalfields as a venue. ‘They gave us the chance to perform here five years ago and it has grown since then. We want to push back the boundaries of Baroque music and present an orchestral programme full of surprise and richness.’

Today, the company with its glittering array of musicians and singers will have the chance to do just that and stun the city who once adored George Freidric Handel with one of his rarely heard masterpieces.

On 8 June La Nuova Musica are joined by renowned sopranos Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts candlelit performance of Couperin’s Leçons des ténèbres at Village Underground. On 12 June La Nuova Musica perform Baroque Horn Concertos, works by Handel and Vivaldi with virtuoso horn player Alec Frank-Gemmill and mezzo-soprano Julia Riley.



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