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DateLine Wednesday, 23 May 2007

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Michael Finnissy at the Handel House Museum

CITADEL:The beautifully restored Handel House, tucked away in Brook Street where the great composer lived is a historic citadel and venue for Handel-inspired music.

ART: Ever thought of meeting Handel face to face? Incredible; Well, I almost did. Rambling down Oxford Street in pursuit of some literary interest, an impulse made me turn to Brook Street and there gloriously situated was one of Handel's houses, now turned into Handel House Museum.

How did I miss it after being to Oxford so many times? Tucked away in security was this incredible citadel of music. I spent hours going through Handel's precious collection that included a selection of manuscripts, printed scores from the Handel House Collection Trust. Incidentally, this trust is in display in the adjoining wings at Bond Street.

Among others were a letter from Handel to Charles Jenens who was the (librettist) to Messiah and other Handel works. There was also an autographed leaf from Esther, along with Mozart's arrangement of a Handel 'fugue'.

This great baroque composer George Fredrick Handel lived at Brook Street from 1723 to 1759 where he composed the famous works such as Messiah, Zadok The Priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Today the Handel House is a beautifully restored historic citadel and the venue for Handel-inspired music.

Throughout the house, paintings and prints of Handel along with his contemporaries provide a backdrop and lifestyle to his life in London. Even today the house is vibrantly alive with his music just like when he was residing there. That is why I said it was like meeting Handel face to face as I felt his spirit touch me. It was a great experience.

Simply to hear his music in this very room where Messiah and countless number of masterpieces were composed was a magnetic experience. The house itself is perfectly enchanting in an ethereal bond, beautifully preserved to spur the imagination.

The Handel House Museum has a permanent Composer-in-Residence, the multi-faceted and extremely talented Mark Bowden who gained a first class degree in Music from the University of Huddersfield before studying compositions at the Royal College of Music.

He is the recipient of many awards including the RPS Composition Winner 2006 for young composers. There is also an Ensemble-in-Residence known as the Barney Players.

They include Ian Wilson on recorders, Harriet Withsire on cello, Kasia Tomszac on harpsichord and Nadja Zwiener on violin. Handel House Museum has a fantastic array of music not necessarily Handel's for those who thirst for classical music.

It keeps the House alive with fascinated audiences who throng for the Festival season that is on presently. The season concludes in August to give a respite to all those involved. The year 2008 will hold an equally inspiring season. I was April bound and was lucky to hear the Michael Finnissy's Portrait Concert and the British Harpsichord Society Concerts in their tribute to Handel.

Finnissy conducted the Bergamo Ensemble with James Widden on violin, Alison Holford on cello, Molly Gibbs on bassoon, Vicky Wright on clarinet and Mark Bowden on harpsichord. Their programme consisted of post Christian Survival Kit, Enek and Molly House.

These among others were all Handel-inspired music. Especially ENEK gloriously played by James Widden solo on the violin. These were performed in Handel's own music room which is a unique chamber space. At the end of the performance, a crowd including me had an informal chat with Finnissy and Mark Bowden. Once again it was a unique experience. I enquired after some ballet compositions he had scored.

Michael Finnissy was born in Tulse Hill, London in 1946. He was a Foundation Scholar at the Royal College of Music in London where he studied composition with masters like Bernard Stevens and Humphrey Searle and later in Italy with Roman Viad.

He created the music department of the London School of Contemporary Dance and has been associated with many British dance companies that include London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Ballet Rambert (the one that interested me), Stride and Second Stride. He has taught music in various schools, academies, colleges and universities that included Royal College of Music and the Chelsea College of Arts among many.

In 1990 Finnissy was appointed as the President of the International Society of Contemporary Music. Re-elected again in 1993, he was made an honorary member of the ISCM in 1999.

FABULOUS: Handel’s Harpsichord in the Rehearsal and Performance rook where the great composer did most of his scores including the Messiah. Visitors are allowed in to the Handel House Museum to view it along with hand written scores, richly preserved by the Trust. Fabulous paintings from the Handel Collection Trust adorns the walls.

After being involved in many major music events, Finnissy's epic piano cycle, The History of Photography in Sound which was the product of several years hard work, lasting for five hours, received its complete premiere in January 2001.

He travelled world over making waves wherever he went. In 2005 when Michael Finnissy was one year short of his 60th birthday, he received two British Composer awards which were given by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters Molly House for ensembles.

This was the result of his spectacular Ensemble Expose's premiere in Greatest Hits of all time at the 2003 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

In the programme I saw, ENEK was easily the best. The nine-minute test piece for violin solo commissioned by Carl Flesch International Violin Competition in 1990. That year it was won by Maxim Vengerov who gave a stunning performance of the score by memory.

Enek evoked memories of the Hungarian Gypsy violin playing and although the effect is of a rhapsodic and improvisatory style, the piece is structured around a series of pitch centres that formed the focus of complex ornamentation, dynamic in contrast with extreme virtuosity. This was one of Finnissy's marvellous scores that identified his genius.

And all the while, Finnissy sat elegantly with the audience and watched his Portrait Concert played by the Bergamo Ensemble. It was his tribute to Handel on this evening.


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