Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Handel’s Messiah

Thu 6 Dec 2018

Handel’s Messiah is probably the most performed choral work in history, and despite being about the whole of Jesus’ life it is now mainly performed at Christmas.

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New events now on sale

Wed 5 Aug 2015

Debbie Diamond

We’ve just announced some new events as part of our 2015-2016 Birthday Season, details below, plus details of a new Night Shift event and other recently-announced concerts outside of our main season:

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Messiah, 9 Dec – Audience Feedback

Thu 11 Dec 2014

We started the festive season on Tuesday with our performance of Messiah at the Royal Festival Hall.

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Speed interview: Catherine Wyn-Rogers

Mon 8 Dec 2014

Mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers performs Handel’s Messiah with us tomorrow evening (9 December). In preparation, we put her through our speed interview.  

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Andrew Mellor on Handel’s Messiah

Fri 5 Dec 2014

Music critic Andrew Mellor explains why he loves Handel, why the Messiah is such a powerful piece of music an why, at that final ‘Amen’, it feels like Christmas has finally arrived.

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The H Factor: Results

Fri 5 Dec 2014

Last week we asked you to submit your renditions of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.

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Warm up those vocal cords…the H factor is here.

Wed 26 Nov 2014

H Factor

In concerts generally we play the music and you listen and enjoy. There is of course one well known exception – and that is the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. For reasons we’ll explain in a future post generally what happens ( in the UK at least) is that the entire audience stands up and joins in – much to the bemusement of any non-Brits in the audience.

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Mildly Rude?

Wed 1 May 2013

We’re very pleased to announce that we’ve added a concert entitled Mildly Rude? to our 2013/2014 Southbank Centre season.  Rounding off our Gamechangers series, it’s a opportunity to hear music from one of Britain’s unsung classical heroes, William Boyce.

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Chi-chi Nwanoku’s Russian Video Tour Diary

Fri 11 Jan 2013

Our Principal Double Bassist, Chi-Chi Nwanoku MBE, took some footage when our Messiah Tour took us all the way to Moscow, Russia, for our first ever performance there. 

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Messiah on tour

Tue 18 Dec 2012

The Orchestra are currently on a festive tour- taking Handel’s Messiah to Las Palmas, Alicante and Moscow with director and OAE Principal Keyboard player, Robert Howarth.

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Messiah: audience reaction

Mon 17 Dec 2012

We finished our last concert of 2012 with a suitably festive performance of Messiah at the Royal Festival Hall on 11 December.
Afterwards, we chatted to some of the audience to find out what they thought of the concert.  Here’s what they had to say- including rocking basses, lifts and a bit of good old-fashioned Christmas spirit…

We also had some press reviews:

Classical Source
Financial Times
Music OMH

And here’s what you said via the wonders of social media.

For all upcoming concerts, visit our What’s On pages.

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Messiah: The best bits

Mon 10 Dec 2012

Music critic Andrew Mellor popped into the office last week and told us about his favourite moments in Messiah and why it’ll ‘grab you by the scruff of the neck’, before our performance of Handel’s festive oratorio tomorrow at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre.

Here’s what he had to say…

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Speed Interview: Matthew Brook

Sun 9 Dec 2012

With Messiah about to return to the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday, we pulled Bass-Baritone Matthew Brook out of rehearsals long enough for some short and sharp questions.

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Robert Howarth On Messiah

Fri 7 Dec 2012

Co-Principal Keyboardist Robert Howarth talks about what the OAE brings to Handel’s epic masterpiece.

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A Massive Messiah?

Wed 5 Dec 2012

Messiah has long fascinated those musicians who peer into musical history, largely because it healthily challenges most of our preconceived notions of ‘faithfulness to the score’ and ‘authenticity’. What, for example, is the right way to perform an ‘authentic’ Messiah? The way Handel performed it in Dublin or London? After all, there must have been striking differences in content and execution even between these chronologically close performances.

With that proviso, it’s fascinating to examine just how far Handel’s score was massaged after its initial airing. Even during the composer’s lifetime the work started to become popular with large choruses, the accompanying orchestra slowly enlarging so as not to be drowned out. In 1784 a performance was arranged in Westminster Abbey to mark 25 years since Handel’s death with a combined army of over 275 singers and 250 instrumentalists. The latter beat on three timpani and blew down six trombones, twelve horns and twelve trumpets – most of them phantom parts that Handel never wrote.

Five years after that Mozart had a go at ‘retouching’ Messiah, adding parts for flutes, clarinets, trombones and horns. And he couldn’t have claimed he needed more power in the band to balance a large chorus, because the performance in question involved a choir of only twelve!

By 1857 London had grown out of Messiahs involving piddling little orchestras in the 200s, and mounted a performance of the work at the Crystal Palace with an orchestra of 500 and a chorus that weighed in at over 2,000. A decade later those figures were spinning even further out of control, with an impatient George Bernard Shaw begging, prophetically, that a performance in a medium-sized hall be given with ‘a capable chorus of twenty singers’ so that he could ‘hear the work properly just once’ before he died. A century on, however, the supersize Messiah wasn’t extinct. Malcolm Sargent’s 1959 EMI recording of the work from Liverpool sounds magnificent with symphonic strings and warming horns, but it was probably a dying breed. These days Messiah is almost universally downsized. Do the benefits of clarity and focus outweigh those of grandeur and mass-involvement? Now there’s a subject for vigorous debate.

We’ll be performing Handel’s grand oratorio at the Royal Festival Hall on 11 December (sorry, we can’t quite fit 2000 singers into the hall…)

And thanks to Andrew Mellor for this great article.

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Speed Interview: Robert Howarth

Fri 30 Nov 2012

In the lead up to Messiah on 11 December, we fired some quick questions at director Robert Howarth.

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Speed Interview: Julia Doyle

Fri 23 Nov 2012

As acclaimed soprano Julia Doyle prepares for her performance in Handel’s celebrated Messiah on 11 December, she took some time out to tell us a bit about her pre-concert superstitions and some of her musical heroes.

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Messiah in rehearsal

Tue 20 Dec 2011

Here’s a clip we posted online on Facebook a little while back but it’s only just made it onto our website, we’ve had such a backlog of things to blog about! Anyway, it’s some rather rough and ready footage from the rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah, which we performed at the Royal Festival Hall a few weeks ago, which which we recently also took to Utrecht. We hope you’ll excuse the rather basic camerawork – oh and yes, the Trumpet player IS allowed to be reading the paper, he’s probably not got anything to play for a while!

If you live in Paris there’s still a chance to catch our Messiah as we perform it there on Thursday 23 December.

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Recent reviews: 1700s London & Messiah

Wed 14 Dec 2011

Here’s a brief round-up of reviews. First up, two from our concert of Abel, Arne, J C bach and Haydn, with violinist Rachel Podger, 1700s London and the Fab Four.

Edward Seckerson Blog

Bach Track

And here’s some from our Messiah directed by Laurence Cummings, including a less than complimentary one in the Financial Times.  As ever, we’d love to know what you thought too.

Financial Times

The Times (subscribers only)

Audience Member blog



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Laurence Cummings on Handel’s Messiah

Mon 21 Nov 2011

Handel Messiah

In our latest video we talk to director Laurence Cummings about Handel’s Messiah which we perform in London on 6 December and also on tour. Laurence tells us why it’s such a special piece and what this performance will bring to it, and we also have a lot of fun taking the balloon concept of the Messiah postcard to whole new lengths…


Charles Jennens portrait © The Handel House Trust Ltd.

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