Britain’s greatest composer was not, of course, born in Britain but in Saxony, in the city of Halle an der Saale. Its prosperity founded on salt and trade, the city reached its apogee in the sixteenth century. But the seeds of its international reputation were sown in the following century with the founding of the university and the birth of George Frideric Handel (or Georg Friedrich Händel), the son of a barber-surgeon, in 1685.
While hearing music in the composer’s home town has a special frisson, a visit to the Handel Festival in Halle is justified by infinitely more than historical association. Now in its sixty-seventh season, it is in the forefront of Handelian endeavour, and no longer need defer to the slightly more senior and rival festival at Göttingen, which for much of the Halle festival’s history was across the border in West Germany.
Since German unification, federal funding has been generous, the range of performers makes the festival truly international and their quality puts the festival on a par with some of the best in Europe. Equally striking is the rapidity with which the resident orchestra, from the Halle Opera House, has embraced period performing styles, switching to authentic instruments for the festival.
As with all our music tours, there are excurisons to places of beauty or architectural interest in the vicinity, while allowing plenty of free time in Halle itself. The city survived the war without much damage, and the effects of pollution and neglect during the years of communism have been largely reversed.
Halle. Fly at c. 10.50am from London Heathrow Airport to Berlin Tegel (British Airways). Drive to Halle (c. 3 hours), with a stop en route.
Halle. An introductory walk in Halle includes the 16th-century Marktkirche, an outstanding example of the very last phase of Gothic with coevil paintings and furnishings, and the Gothic and Baroque cathedral. In the afternoon, visit the excellent Handel Museum in the historic centre, once believed to be his birthplace but well furnished with Handeliana and furniture of the time. Evening concert at the Ulrichskirche with The King’s Consort, Neil Brough (trumpet), Robert King (conductor) and Carolyn Sampson (soprano): ‘Handel’s Heroines’.
Naumburg, Halle. Drive out to Naumburg, a well preserved town with a major Romanesque and Early Gothic cathedral which contains some of the finest of mediaeval sculptures including astounding pseudo-portraits of the founders. Return to Halle for some free time before an evening concert at the Händel Halle with the Kammerorchester Basel, the MDR Rundfunkchor, Paul McCreesh (conductor) and soloists Mary Bevan, Rupert Enticknap, David Soar, Thomas Walker: Susanna, HWV 66.
Leipzig, Halle. Leipzig, the largest free city in Saxony and always a major centre of trade and industry, especially publishing. A guided walking tour includes the Markt, the large square with the arcaded town hall on one side, the maze of alleys and courtyards behind the streetfronts and the Thomaskirche, the mediaeval church where J. S. Bach was director of music for 26 years. Some free time, opportunity to visit the Bach Museum or the Museum of Fine Arts in its new premises, before returning to Halle mid afternoon. Evening concert at Halle Cathedral (Dom) with the Academy of Ancient Music, Tenebrae Choir, Nigel Short (conductor) and soloists Katie Trethewey, Martha McLorinan, Nicholas Madden, Stephen Kennedy: Messiah, HWV 56.
Halle, Bad Lauchstädt. In the morning visit the Moritzburg, a once formidable but partly ruined 15th-century castle; a 19th-cent. range houses an excellent art gallery. Drive the few miles to Bad Lauchstädt, a fashionable resort in the early 19th century with a delightful theatre built for the annual visit by Goethe and his troupe of actors from Weimar. Lunch before an afternoon opera at the Goethe-Theater: Alcina (Handel) with the Lautten Compagney Berlin, Nigel Short (conductor) and soloists to be confirmed. Return to Halle for dinner.
Wörlitz. Visit the park of Schloss Wörlitz, one of the first and most successful of English-style landscaped gardens on the Continent, a delightful ensemble with artfully planned lake, Classical pavilions and Romantic follies. Fly from Berlin Tegel to Heathrow, arriving c. 5.45pm.
Price, per person
Price, per person. Two sharing: £2,240 or £2,020 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,480 or £2,260 without flights.
Music tickets are confirmed in November 2018.
Top category tickets to 4 performances costing c. £220; air travel (economy class) on British Airways flights (Airbus A320); private coach for airport transfers and excursions; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips for waiters, drivers and guides; all state and airport taxes; services of the lecturer.
Hotel Rotes Ross, Halle: 4-star hotel in the town centre, comfortable and furnished in a classic style.
The tour involves walking in the town centres where vehicular access is restricted and should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 65 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'The itinerary was excellent. The various outings were eye openers to a new country and whetted my appetite to explore it further.'
'Excellent performances and first rate artists.'