Wednesday 29 November 2023

Handel by candle-light & a gig on Jimi Hendrix's bed: Handel Hendrix After Dark

Intesa Duo at Handel Hendrix House
Intesa Duo at Handel Hendrix House

Handel Hendrix House After Dark; Intesa Duo, Maya Delilah
25 November 2023

Two contrasting gigs in Handel's dining room and Jimi Hendrix's bedroom as Handel Hendrix House welcomes visitors to its evocative, candle-lit historic interiors

Handel lived at 25 Brook Street from 1723 until his death in 1759, whilst Jimi Hendrix moved into a flat next door at 23 Brook Street in 1968, and his time there would be the longest period that he spent in one place. Since 2000, when the Handel House Trust took over, the presentation of the buildings has expanded. Initially, only the first and second floors of 25 Brook Street were restored and open to the public, then Jimi Hendrix's flat at 23 Brook Street was restored, helped by the fact that no. 23 had had no major structural work since then, and the most recent expansion has seen the ground floor of Handel's house restored to something like the state that Handel would have known. 

Both no. 23 and no. 25 have display spaces alongside the restored interiors so that both Handel's house and Hendrix flat are displayed in as close a state to what would have existed. This means that Handel's rooms now feature a significant selection of paintings that emulate the collection as known in Handel's day. Rather than functioning as a museum about Handel, it is a house intended to evoke the period of Handel's occupancy and introduce the work the he created there.

During November 2023, Handel Hendrix House started a series of Handel Hendrix After Dark where the house was open in the evening, with the 18th century house lit only by candles (electric, but very effective) and with live music both in Handel's dining room, where he rehearsed with singers, and in Hendrix's bedroom. We went along on Friday 24 November 2023 for an evening that celebrated Jimi Hendrix' birthday (he would have been 81 on 27 November 2023). 

In Handel's dining room we heard the Intesa Duo, which consists of Lucine Musaelian and Nathan Giorgietti, both playing bass viols and Musaelian singing, then in Hendrix' bedroom there was a set from the young singer/songwriter Maya Delilah.

No. 25 had undergone significant changes since Handel left, and in the early 20th century the conversion to a shop entailed the removal of the original frontage at ground and first floor levels, and the stripping out of the panelling. Ironically, the flat the Hendrix lived in at no. 23 had far more original features surviving than Handel's house. With the removal of the shop from no. 25, the house's frontage has returned to its original, whilst the restoration of Handel's living spaces has reconstructed the Georgian room layout and added the wood panelling that would have been there. Thus the room favours wooden surfaces with a minimum of soft furnishings. The result is a warm, responsive acoustic, ideal for intimate performance. And this was intimate, with listeners crowded into the dining room and the adjacent room.

The Intesa Duo, formed at the Royal Academy of Music, has an eclectic repertoire, playing music both ancient and modern, many in their own arrangements, whilst Lucine Musaelian sings as well as playing. They play 7-stringed bass viols based on models from the late 17th and early 18th century. Their programme began with a typical Spanish dance, then moved on to a haunting Armenian folksong, with Musaelian singing, and she continued singing with Lennon & McCartney's Michelle. The combination of Musaelian's rather folk-inspired voice and the rich counterpoint that the viols brought to Lennon & McCartney's music was very striking. A Monteverdi madrigal followed, intimate and affecting, making you realise that these were the type of spaces that this music was written for. Finally a Handel aria. Handel never wrote anything for viol, but here they made a striking arrangement of Cleopatra's Piangero from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, bringing out the contrast between the clarity of Musaelian's voice and the lovely, dark chestnutty sound of the two viols.

Maya Delilah in Jimi Hendrix's bedroom
Maya Delilah in Jimi Hendrix's bedroom

After a lovely wander around the candle-lit rooms, making you realise quite how little light people had in the evenings, we repaired to Jimi Hendrix' bedroom where, largely sitting on the floor, a full audience heard a lovely gig from singer/songwriter Maya Delilah and her guitar. She commented that it was probably the most intimate gig she had ever given, and here she was sitting on Hendrix' bed. It was a lovely performance, with a real sense of Maya Delilah letting us into her world in a way that a bigger room would not.

Handel Hendrix House After Dark continues on 1 December with Eddy Smith, and Flutes & Frets Duo, and then on 8 December with mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory and guitarist William Rees. Full details from the Handel Hendrix House website.

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