This March 11-27 the peripatetic annual festival of Handel’s music sponsored by the American Handel Society visits Seattle. There will be 30 concerts giving Seattleites and all in the region an unrepeatable opportunity to explore one of classical music’s greatest and most approachable figures.
Handel himself was an internationally peripatetic composer. Born in Germany, he trained there and then in Italy, but spent most of his adult life in London. In his travels he acquired the skills necessary to write in different styles and forms — oratorios and sacred music for both catholic and protestant traditions, orchestral suites, instrumental concerti, and not least opera. He was one of music’s most adaptable, perhaps most opportunistic, composers. And he succeeded brilliantly in all the forms he tried.
March's American Handel Festival covers the compass of his extraordinarily varied output and features a very wide range of performers. First off the starting blocks will be the Seattle Symphony conducted by baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan (Benaroya Hall, March 11 and 12), who will give the famous "Water Music" suite and with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian an alluring selection of songs inspired by Queen Cleopatra.
Other local performers of distinction will bring the festival to an end a couple of weeks later. On Saturday (March 26) PacificMusicWorks and Doug Fullington’s Tudor Choir conducted by Steven Stubbs will give the fine oratorio "Esther." (Handel is a paradox amongst composers: certain pieces like "The Messiah" are hugely popular and widely done. Others just as interesting in their way, like "Esther," are neglected). And on Sunday (March 27) the Seattle Baroque Orchestra under Ingrid Matthews will give a concert of his instrumental concertos.
Of particular note in between are the enchanting chamber opera "Acis and Galatea," presented by the Boston Early Music Festival (25 March); the Seattle Pro Musica in a programme of Handel’s lively church anthems (March 19 and 20); and a fittingly Easter tribute to Handel’s great contemporary Bach’s "St. John Passion" given by the Portland Baroque Orchestra under Monica Huggett (March 20 in the afternoon).
Appropriately enough for Handel, there is something for everyone. Some of the performances will be in the early music or authentic performance tradition. There will be recognition, too, of Handel’s huge popularity with amateur choral singers and players: James Savage will be leading an open-to-everyone Handel Chorus Workshop between (March 6-23, with final concert on March 26). On March 19 Peter Seibert will lead a community event for recorder, viol, and other baroque instruments in St James Cathedral.
Handel is one of the most extroverted and approachable of the great composers. He is also one of the greatest and most natural melodists. If it’s tunes you want, he’s your man. You can hear them all this March.
If you go: The American Handel Festival's web site's ticketing page is here. It advises, "You can buy tickets directly from the presenting organizations or through the festival office." It also suggests starting with a review of the festival brochure, available here in pdf format.