Backstage Pass interview with Graham Abbott, Guest Conductor

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How many times have you conducted Messiah?

This performance will be my 73rd. I conducted Messiah for the first time in 1978 when I was 19.

Why do you think Handel’s Messiah has become so popular?

Handel himself was partially responsible for this, quite apart from the quality of the music. From 1750 onwards he performed the work annually in London's Foundling Hospital (now the Thomas Coram Foundation) to raise funds for the institution. Messiah rapidly became associated in the minds of English-speaking music lovers with good works and charity and, over time, the annual performances have cemented themselves into English-speaking cultures the world over.

What draws you to Handel’s music?
Handel the man was a fascinating character and I find him real and down-to-earth. This is reflected in his music, especially the operas, but also the oratorios. He had a brilliant way of encapsulating character and drama with the simplest of means, and this speaks powerfully to us even today.

Do you prefer conducting orchestral concerts or operas and why?

It really depends on the repertoire and the people I work with. I do enjoy both forms of music-making, and both have their challenges and rewards. I could never devote myself entirely to one or the other

Can you describe what’s involved in your role as producer and presenter of Keys To Music on ABC Classic FM.

Keys To Music is quite simply the best thing that's ever happened to me professionally. I am responsible for the selection of topics and the planning of each year's programs. I do all my own research and administration (including listener correspondence) and write and record my scripts myself. On average each week's program entails about three days' work for me to get to this stage. I do all this 2-3 months before broadcast, so right now I'm well into planning and writing programs for February. I then have a technical producer who edits my voice recording and inserts the recording extracts I have chosen and makes sure the program gets to the required duration. Sometimes some tweaking is required if it turns out too long or too short but it's always creative, always interesting and so fulfilling.

What plans do you have for the Christmas break?

As ABC Classic FM's resident Scrooge (I don't celebrate Christmas) I always work over the Christmas and New Year break. This year I'm looking after the Afternoons program for two and half weeks starting 22 December (including programming most of the music, which I love to do). I will take time off later in January to have a break and I sometimes travel to Europe during the summer to escape a little of the heat here. But right now I have nothing planned. I might just stay at home and read all those books on my shelf waiting to be read!