Michael White’s classical news: Camden Choir; Total Immersion Day; Handel Festival

Thursday, 17th March — By Michael White

Richard Blackford_credit www.blackford.co.uk

Richard Blackford. Photo: blackford.co.uk

THE story of the Tower of Babel doesn’t rank among the most straightforward in the Old Testament: it’s an “open to interpretation” text whose idea of God coming heavy and scattering people/multiplying languages can read punitively or positively (as a founding myth for civilisation as we know it).

But this weekend the Camden Choir will do its best to sort things out with the premiere of a new cantata by Richard Blackford: a big name in the world of choral and orchestral music who was commissioned to write the piece – called Babel – in honour of the choir’s 50th anniversary. An auspicious event.

Blackford’s long career as a composer was, for several decades, based on film and TV scores, with Emmy nominations for things like his CNN/BBC series Millennium. But more recently his focus shifted back to concert music, with high-impact oratorios for the Bach Choir and Bournemouth Symphony Chorus. He’s been composer-in-residence with the Czech Philharmonic, and produced works of dazzling imagination like The Great Animal Orchestra: a sort of hi-tech sequel to Saint-Saens famous Carnival of the Animals that weaves digitalised samples of wildlife noises from a Borneo rainforest into live orchestral textures.

Babel won’t be quite on that scale, but it’s still ambitious – with elements of promised spectacle and opportunities for audience participation. So be in good voice. It plays Mar 20, 7pm, Cadogan Hall. Tickets: cadoganhall.com

Somebody else whose composing career crossed genres between popular and classical was Frank Zappa, the American iconoclast (1940-93) whose work was so wide-ranging it defies categorisation. But the fact that it embraces orchestral music gives the BBC Symphony something to work with, and forms the basis of a “Total Immersion Day” at the Barbican on Mar 19. Starting mid-morning with a documentary film, and running through the afternoon and evening with performances, it’s the kind of thing the BBC is well-equipped for. Details: barbican.org.uk

• The annual London Handel Festival is an event based, usually, at the church where Handel was a regular (and seriously devout) member of the congregation, St George’s Hanover Square. And St George’s remains the focus this year when the festival gets under way on Mar 23. But its net is spreading out to places Handel couldn’t in his dreams have conjured up – including Village Underground in Shoreditch (venue for a concert billed as Handel in Hackney), and another night club known these days as Stone Nest (off Shaftesbury Avenue and playing host to an “immersive” production of the composer’s Acis and Galatea). With new music inspired by Handel as well as the original stuff (some familiar, some rare), there’s a real sense of adventure in this year’s programme, which runs to April 18. Details: london-handel-festival.com

Talking of Hackney, it’s playing host not only to Handel but to Gilbert & Sullivan, whose The Gondoliers is running at Hackney Empire from Mar 20, courtesy of Scottish Opera on tour: hackneyempire.co.uk. And among the week’s other highlights are Bryn Terfel singing Brahms at the Festival Hall, Mar 19 (southbank.co.uk); William Walton’s firebrand of a 1st Symphony at the Festival Hall Mar 23; and, more locally, assorted Primrose Hill choirs singing American rep at St Mary’s, Elsworthy Road, Mar 19: londonclassicalchoir.com

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