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Handel Messiah

  • St Sepulchre without Newgate Holborn Viaduct London EC1A 2DQ (map)
George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

Conductor: Cathal Garvey
Choir: Newbury Choral Society
Claire Bessent - Soprano
Annie Gill - Alto
Stefan Kennedy - Tenor
David Ireland - Bass

This is a repeat of the concert on November 28th at St Nicolas’s Church, Newbury. Click here for more details


Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed by Handel in 1741, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. It was first performed in Dublin in 1742 and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

Handel's reputation in England, where he had lived since 1712, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech. Instead, Jennens's text is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as Messiah. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only "scene" taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the "Hallelujah" chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ's glorification in heaven [more from Wikipedia]


George Frideric Handel became a prominent German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Handel received critical musical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712. He became a naturalised British subject in 1727.

By 1741, Handel's pre-eminence in British music was evident from the honours he had accumulated, including a pension from the court of King George II, the office of Composer of Musick for the Chapel Royal, and—most unusually for a living person—a statue erected in his honour in Vauxhall Gardens. Within a large and varied musical output, Handel was a vigorous champion of Italian opera, which he had introduced to London in 1711 with Rinaldo. 

After his success with Messiah he never performed an Italian opera again. Almost blind, and having lived in England for nearly fifty years, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honours, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and Messiah remaining steadfastly popular. One of his four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest (1727), composed for the coronation of George II, has been performed at every subsequent British coronation, traditionally during the sovereign's anointing. Handel composed more than forty operas in over thirty years, and since the late 1960s, with the revival of baroque music and historically informed musical performance, interest in Handel's operas has grown [more from Wikipedia]

Cathal Garvey

Cathal Garvey hails from Ireland where he made his name as a choral and orchestral conductor. He began violin and piano studies in his native Cork at an early age, continuing at the Cork School of Music and later reading music at University College Cork. After completing his Masters Degree in Conducting he studied for two years at the prestigious College of Moscow Conservatory.

He began his career as an Opera Chorus Master working for most of Ireland’s major opera companies including Opera Ireland, Opera Theatre Company, Anna Livia Opera Festival, Opera South and Lyric Opera Productions. In recent years Cathal has conducted the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the RTE Concert Orchestra, the Orchestra of St Cecilia, the Ulysses Orchestra, the Irish Sinfonia, the Dublin Baroque Players, the Royal Irish Academy of Music Wind Ensemble, Dublin Concert Band, Bray Choral Society and from 2001 to 2006 was Principal Conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players.

Cathal's principal instrument is the violin; he was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland and he has played professionally with many orchestras including the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the German-based Philharmonia of the Nations.

As a chorister, Cathal has sung and toured with many large choirs and chamber choirs, among them the Irish Youth Choir, University College Cork Choir, Madrigal '75 and the College of Moscow Conservatory Choir.

Cathal moved to London in April 2009 to take up the post of Chorus Master with Grange Park Opera. In addition he now regularly conducts the London Repertoire Orchestra. Newbury Choral Society was delighted to appoint him Musical Director in September 2009.

Newbury Choral Society

The NCS is a friendly choir with over 100 members of all ages, from the young to the not so young. They perform a wide and varied repertoire of familiar choral works by composers such as Bach and Mozart, to less frequently performed pieces by more recent composers such as Tippett, Tavener and Rachmaninov. Rehearsals are every Monday evening during term time, from 7:20pm to 9:30pm at the Methodist Church Hall, Newbury.

For more information visit the choir website at

Earlier Event: September 26
C20 Russian Masterpieces
Later Event: February 6
Brahms Double, Sibelius 2