Past performers 2006-2018

We have had an amazing year in 2018, including the privilege of a recital by Gerald Finley and an incredible performance of Handel's Messiah. Over the last 12 years we've welcomed a host of wonderful performers, and, for the record, here they all are:

Adrian Bradbury | Adriano Graziani | Aiso Quartet | Alessandra Testai | Alex Metcalfe | Amanda Pitt | Ann Beilby | Anthony Zerpa-Falcon | Archaeus String Quartet | Archduke Trio | Barbirolli Quartet | Callum Smart | Cambridge Taverner Choir | Cantabile | Cellists of the RPO | Charles Wiffen | Chelys Viol Ensemble | Chris Hatt | Christopher Sayles | Clio Gould | Daniel Auchinloss | David Chatterton | David Campbell | Daniel Edgar | Daniel Tong | David Owen-Norris | David Maw | David Owen Norris | Decimus Consort | Diane Moore | Dulcinea Quartet | Eleanor Alberga | Ellen Smith | English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble | Felicity Lott | Follia | Frances Yonge | Gary Branch | Gerald Finley | Giles Davies | Gilfillan family | Greg Tassell | Guy Johnstone | Hugh Webb | Ibrahim Aziz | Jamie McVinnie | Jane Gomm | Jennifer Snapes | Jong-Gyung Park | Julius Drake | Karen Jones | Karina Lucas | Kate Andrews | Kate Semmens | Katharine Johns | Katie Stillman | Kokoschka Trio | Konevets Quartet | Ken Aiso | King Charles Singers | Lianna Jeffrey | Liz Partridge | London Bridge Ensemble | Marcus Andrews | Margaret Faultless | Marie-Noelle Kendall | Martin Fogel | Masahiro Yamaguchi | Matchbox Opera | Merry Opera | Michael Bacon | Michael Collins | Michael Grant | Michael McHale | Miriam Cox | Nigel Clayton | Oliver Davies | Owen Rees | Paul Clark | Paul Jeffrey | Paul Guinery | Pentagon Ensemble | Peter Arnold | Peter Barker | Rachel Godsill | Rachel Stroud | Raphael Wallfisch | Richard Egarr | Richard Uttley | Robert Gibbs | Robin Jeffrey | Roselyne Martel-Bonnal | Rose Trio | Royal Tunbridge Wells Male Voice Choir | Ruth Beedham | St Andrews University Madrigal Group | Sam Haywood | Sara Lois Cunningham | Sarah Stuart-Pennink | Sasha Grynyuk | Schubert Ensemble | Simon Lane | Sophia Lisovskaya | Steve Pierce | Steven Devine | Temenos Chamber Choir | Teresa Caudle | Tim Gill | Tim Lines | Tom Bowes | Tom Foster | Tom Lilburn | Trajecti Voices | Trevor Eliot Bowes | Twilight Ensemble | Unexpected Opera | William Bass | William Summers | Yeo Yat Soon | Yukiko Shinohara


Handel in Tunbridge Wells

The earliest reference to Handel visiting Tunbridge Wells appears in his letter to Charles Jennens in July 1735. Jennens had sent a libretto (probably Saul) to Handel in London, and Handel wrote: “I am just going to Tunbridge, … I shall have more leisure time there to read it with all the Attention it deserves”.

It is likely that at this time Handel was visiting the town more for its social scene and entertainments than for medical reasons, this also being the year when Beau Nash took over as Master of Ceremonies. According to Samuel Derrick (Nash’s successor) “the best musical performers of the age, often come down hither from London, and form elegant concerts, for which they are generally well paid”. Derrick was less complimentary about the fiddlers “scraping away” in the Music Gallery on the Pantiles during the hours of water-drinking – “I cannot say they yield very delightful strains.”

Nash’s Rules and Regulations recommended, among rules for dancing, card-playing and donating to the water-dippers, that visitors should make voluntary contributions to pay for the minister at King Charles the Martyr; “It is hoped he may rely with confidence for the reward of his labours, on the benevolence of those who reap the benefit of them”. Handel evidently followed this advice as his name appears in the subscription list for the Church of King Charles the Martyr in 1755.

Charles Burney wrote in 1785 that during the last years of his life, Handel constantly attended public prayers, twice a day, winter and summer, both in London and Tunbridge Wells. William Coxe reported that that during his visit in 1755 Handel had a quarrel with John Christopher Smith senior (Handel’s first copyist in London who he summoned from Germany in 1712). Smith left Handel “in an abrupt manner, which so enraged him, that he declared he would never see him again”, though Handel stayed friends with his son who acted his secretary and amanuensis and conducted the performances of his late oratorios.

The last references to Handel visiting Tunbridge Wells are in August 1758, when he is mentioned as being with William Morrell, librettist of Judas Maccabeus and other late oratorios. On this occasion Handel underwent couching (a form of cataract treatment) at the hands of John “Chevalier” Taylor, a notorious travelling oculist. (Taylor had in 1750 performed a botched operation on JS Bach in Leipzig, leaving Bach continuously ill for six months afterwards). Taylor celebrated the operation in his ode “On the Recovery of the Sight of the Celebrated Mr Handel, by the Chevalier Taylor”. One of the opening verses reads: “Great Father of Music and every Science / In all our Distresses, on thee our reliance; / Know then, in yon villa, from pleasures confin’d, / Lies our favourite, Handel, afflicted and blind.” The poetry does not improve, and neither did Handel’s eyesight. Later in his diaries Taylor admitted that “upon drawing the curtain” (i.e. removing the supposed cataract) the back of the eye was found to be “defective, from a paralytic disorder”.

The 1985 television film “God Rot Tunbridge Wells!”, written by John Osborne, portrays Handel’s riposte to an appalling performance of Messiah by the Tunbridge Wells Ladies Music Circle, but sadly there is no historical foundation to this scene.

Programme notes by Patrick Glencross


A truly magic evening

What an experience! There was an audible gasp from the audience after the last chord of Saturday’s performance of Handel’s Messiah, followed by an astonishing, prolonged standing ovation from the full house.

It was Director Steven Devine’s vision that had paid off. Bringing together superb players mainly of the OAE with world-class soloists from the world of opera, and a small, dynamic choir, his interpretation focused tenaciously on the meaning of the text’s juxtapositions of scripture. Not only was the performance of terrifically high quality, the audience were truly taken on an emotional journey that no-one there will forget.

“The best performance of Messiah I have ever heard.”
“Privileged to be there.”
“The intimacy of the setting gave us all the opportunity to feel that we were part of it. I shall never hear a better Messiah. A truly magic evening.”
“How amazing tonight was. One of the best musical experiences ever, in King Charles or anywhere. I and all the people I spoke to were pretty much lost for words.”
“I was moved afresh by the extraordinary scriptural truths of this extraordinary piece of inspired genius and the dramatic setting... overall one of my top 10 musical experiences ever.”
"It was a-ma-zing."

With thanks to the whole cast:

Soprano: Kate Semmens. Alto Tom Lilburn. Tenor: Dan Auchinloss. Bass: Trevor Eliot Bowes

Violin 1: Daniel Edgar (leader), George Clifford, Sophie Simpson. Violin 2: Stephen Rouse, Mark Seow. Viola: Jan Schlapp. Cello: Kinga Gaborjani. Double bass: Kate Brook. Oboe: James Eastaway, Geoff Coates. Trumpet: Tamsin Cowell, Kirsty Loosemore. Timpani: Stephen Birke. Harpsichord: Stephen Devine. Organ: Robin Bigwood. Directed by Steven Devine. 

Decimus Consort - Soprano: Kate Faber, Caroline Preston Bell, Ellen Smith, Polly Walton. Alto: Christina Astin, Nicholas Perkins, Ben Toombs. Tenor: Alex Churchill, Stephen Pritchard, Philip Mills. Bass: Keith Bryant, Patrick Glencross, Rupert Preston Bell.