Blog: Pauline Nobes

The artistic director of Manchester Baroque (pictured left) says the city's musical history goes back further than you might imagine

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A little under a couple of years ago a group of musicians, mostly staff of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, got together. We had the idea that there was something of a gap in our city’s musical life.

The city does contemporary music of every kind as well as any city. It has outstanding orchestras in the Hallé, BBC Phil and Camerata. But there wasn’t and hadn’t been a Manchester-based programme of the music we loved playing and which in other cities is a mainstay of cultural life. We are talking about the music of Handel, Vivaldi, Bach and the Baroque period in which they lived and wrote.

We decided to fill the gap and last summer Manchester Baroque was born. We had a launch concert in February this year. You can see clips on our social media feeds – try Twitter @ManchesterBaro1. With well over 200 people, half of whom had never been to a so-called classical concert, we filled St Ann’s Church in the city centre. It was a diverse audience in every sense, something we’re really proud of.

We know that all classical music has the tag of “elite” applied to it all too easily. And in one sense, done well, it is. Performing to the level we aspire to requires years of dedicated study and performance practice. But the art itself? No!

We know what the first Manchester concert goers were listening to in 1744 and we are going to recreate the concerts

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is as recorded as anything on earth. How many brides have walked up the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon? And how many hundreds of thousands of football fans fall silent at Champions League games when the anthem (a pretty ropey rendition of Handel’s chorus Zadok the Priest) is played before games? I could go on. You get the point. But here’s the thing. There is an almost limitless treasure trove of music from this period, much of which is every bit as good. Some of it has still, 300 years later, not been properly published, let alone recorded. Much of it was thought lost but has gradually been recovered from archives across the world.

One such archive is Manchester’s own Henry Watson Music Library in Central Library, St Peter’s Square. As a student in Manchester I discovered a book with details on what we now understand to be the earliest concert series in Manchester, in 1744, some 20 years before the earliest previously known concerts. Better than that, we have the programmes. To put it simply – we know what the first Manchester concert goers were listening to in 1744 and we are going to recreate the concerts. It all starts on 2 November in St Ann’s Church which, far from coincidentally, is 275 years to the day since this first concert was given.

What can people expect? A rich, maybe even an eclectic mix. There are popular arias (songs) and a concerto by Handel, and one by another well-known music by an Italian composer, Corelli. But beyond this are several pieces by unknown Italian and English composers of the time. Tessarini and Boni are not household names today. They clearly were then!

We see this concert as a voyage of discovery into the music we were making as a city as the first stirrings of our later greatness were taking place. We are creating these and our other concerts of beautiful music for the city we love. We perform Handel’s Messiah with Manchester Cathedral on 30 November, the eve of Advent, with three further concerts in the new year. Anyone with ears to listen will find something in these concerts. We’d love as many Mancunians as possible to come with us on our journey.

Take a look at manchesterbaroque.co.uk. We’d love to know what you think of what we’re doing. You can email us your thoughts at manchesterbaroque@gmail.com. Above all we hope you’ll come and enjoy the music with us. Tickets start from only £5. But if this is too much for you, let us know and we’ll see what we can do to help. We want Manchester Baroque to be for all Mancunians.

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