The Musicology unit at the South African College of Music hosted Professor Ruth Smith from Cambridge University recently. This is the second visit to the University of Cape Town for the Handel scholar who was in the country to participate in the St George’s Singers Handel oratorio performance ‘Theodora’, the L’Orfeo Barockorchester under Barry Smith as well as to deliver two public lectures on George Frideric Handel.
Professor Smith has an impressive background. She is an international authority on Handel’s music and is in high demand as a writer, lecturer and broadcaster on Handel’s oratorios and operas, her particular focus being on the words and the ideas behind them. Her monograph Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1995, paperback 2005) was awarded a British Academy Prize. Her short illustrated book Charles Jennens: The Man behind Handel’s Messiah was published in 2012 to accompany the exhibition she curated at the Handel House Museum, leading the Times Literary Supplement to acclaim Jennens as Handel’s most significant collaborator. Additional publications include over 20 entries in the CUP Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia. She is a Council member and trustee of the London Handel Institute. In additional to the visits to South Africa, she has previously been invited to address audiences at institutions in Australia, the USA, Italy, France and Germany.
The first of her University of Cape Town public lectures took place on 27 August and was entitled: George Frideric Handel – A case study of a composer’s career. The second, entitled: English Oratorio: How, what and why, took place on 29 August. Head of the South African College of Music (SACM) Professor Rebbekka Sandmeier, herself an expert on Handel, says that this visit held a professional as well as personal significance. “I had read her books and articles on Handel in conjunction with my own research, but had never met her before and was highly interested in bringing her to the SACM when Barry mentioned that she had agreed come. Her visit and her lectures link into my research on Handel and foster an exchange of ideas between scholars working in the same field” said Professor Sandmeier.
Although the performance of “Theodora” was not coordinated by UCT, the event facilitated several important links and synergies. Barry Smith is a former lecturer at the SACM and maintains a strong connection to UCT. He performs a Handel oratorio every year with his choir. In addition, several members of orchestra from this year’s performance agreed to provide master classes to SACM students while they are in South Africa. The Public lectures were scheduled as part of the SACM’s “History of Music I” course and benefited UCT students. “Handel is a topic within our academic course schedule and our first-year Bachelor of Music (BMus) students were able to obtain input from an international scholar in the field. Making the lectures open to the public proved sensible, as there was a great deal of interest from within and beyond UCT” said Professor Sandmeier.
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