The Gabrieli Consort & Players.
(photo credit: BEN WRIGHT)
Scheduled for the beginning of February, the Eilat International Chamber Music Festival will host an impressive array of musicians from around the world.
One of the prominent guests will be the Gabrieli Consort & Players from the UK, led by its founder Paul McCreesh. Their program will celebrate Handel’s four years in Rome, with an interesting selection of works by the German-born composer and his Italian contemporary Arcangelo Corelli.
This will be the second visit of the Gabrieli Consort to the Eilat Festival, and McCreesh, 56, says he is looking forward to it.
“It has just started snowing here,” he says from his UK home, “so it is a great pleasure for me to travel to a warm resort like Eilat.”
The concert’s program will include one of Corelli’s concerti grossi (Op. 6 No. 4) and focus on Handel. It will feature Handel’s Italian cantata “Donna che in ciel” (“Our lady that is in heaven”) for a solo soprano and an instrumental ensemble, and the famous “Dixit Dominus.”
“The Handel cantata we will perform is relatively unknown but is extremely appealing,” says McCreesh. “It was composed in 1707, not long after Handel had moved to Rome. He was a 22-year-old composer, brought to Rome from his native Germany by his influential Italian patrons. Full of motivation, he became more Roman than the pope. The city had sustained a major earthquake, and surprisingly enough there were only a few casualties. So this cantata is a thanksgiving piece for the miracle. It’s extremely energetic and full of virtuoso coloratura singing of the soprano. It also has a slow movement, which offers the most beautiful music.”
He adds that “Handel was a kind of a musical chameleon. He came to Catholic Rome from Protestant Germany and had quickly adopted a completely different culture from his own. Ten years later, he did the exact same thing when he moved to England.”
While it is customary to accuse Handel of stealing musical ideas from others or reusing his own material, McCreesh asserts, “This is an absolute non-issue. This accusation derives from a puritan 19-century approach, portraying composition as something that has to do with inspiration. But Handel was a pragmatic composer who used all the sources he had, exactly as all his contemporaries did. Rearranging existing music was a common practice at that time and can also be found in Bach’s works, as well as many others. Judging this by our current criteria is wrong.”
In regard to today’s trends in the performance of early music compared with the first years of the Early Music Movement, McCreesh says, “The field of early music performance had become much bigger. On the one hand, this expansion has many upsides: Many different styles developed, a lot of music had been discovered, and many more musicians joined the field. However, there are some downsides as well. This field had become an industry and ceased to be as innovative as before. Another problem is that the Baroque groups don’t receive the same budgets as do the large orchestras.
Also, today there are too many Baroque groups for the existing audience. The monetary concerns force most promoters to ask us to focus on well-known repertoire, and only a few of them would venture more daring programs.”
However, he adds, “Despite all the problems, many people make a living from Baroque music. They all survive somehow, but it’s a difficult field. Luckily for me, I also conduct larger orchestras and don’t have to be so concerned financially. But for those who focus only on Baroque music, things are tougher.”
And McCreesh doesn’t consider himself a Baroque specialist.
“My musical basis is much wider and is actually based on music from the 19th and 20th centuries,” he says. “The perception of my career had been distorted because most of my recordings were of early music, after having been invited to record that repertoire by the Deutsche Gramophone recording label.”
He adds with subtle British humor, “Some of these recordings I even like. But I am not a Baroque expert nor am I a musicologist. I simply believe in my musicianship.”