Bristol Ensemble in spectacular finale to the Harbour Festival

Our trustee Jerry Cowhig was interviewed at the press launch of the Harbour Festival about the Bristol Ensemble’s unique contribution to what the Bristol Post describes as an “unforgettable experience” as the Bristol Ensemble performs Handel’s Water Music in “an incredible live music performance on board a flotilla of boats, which will travel from the SS Great Britain along the Harbourside to the Lloyds Amphitheatre and Museum Square.”

The performance will take place at 5.30pm on Sunday 23 July in a spectacular finale ending with flares and confetti cannon accompanying the music. Earlier in the day, children from the Bristol Ensemble’s award-winning Preludes project will perform at the BBC Bristol stage at the SS Great Britain, as part of a project about Handel’s Water Music.

Floating anniversary performance of Handel’s Water Music

The dramatic performance will mark the 300th anniversary of the first legendary performance of the famous piece. In July 1717, the premiere was given in front of the King and his court aboard a flotilla of boats on the River Thames, so it is fitting that this recreation will take place on the water beside one of Bristol’s most exciting historic landmarks: Brunel’s SS Great Britain. Brunel was a great fan of Handel’s music, and requested that ‘See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes’ from Judas Maccabaeus was performed at an underwater party held inside his new Thames Tunnel during its construction in the 1820s; Brunel later had the same piece performed at an event marking the completion of the Royal Albert Bridge, Plymouth.

Bristol’s 300th anniversary performance of Handel’s Water Music is possible thanks to public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Earlier on Sunday 23 July, children from local primary schools involved with ‘Preludes’ music project will perform a new composition on the SS Great Britain and BBC Radio Bristol stage in Brunel Square. They will work with ‘Preludes’ teachers and musicians from the Bristol Ensemble, taking inspiration from Handel’s Water Music before premiering their Bristol Harbour Festival performance.

Roger Huckle, Artistic Director for the Bristol Ensemble, will direct both performances. He said: “This will be a fantastic event, echoing the first performance of the Water Music which took place on the Thames. Our flotilla will set sail from the SS Great Britain, voyaging along the harbourside to the amphitheatre and Museum Square, entertaining the crowds with this wonderful, centuries-old music. It promises to be a wonderful highlight of Bristol Harbour Festival.”

As an established partner of Bristol Harbour Festival, providing free family entertainment in Brunel Square over the last five years with BBC Radio Bristol, the SS Great Britain Trust sees this dramatic evening performance as a further opportunity to celebrate UK maritime cultural heritage.

Matthew Tanner, Chief Executive of the SS Great Britain Trust, commented: “The Trust is delighted to be joining with the Bristol Ensemble to put on an ambitious performance on the harbour and celebrate the 300th anniversary almost to the day of the first rendition of this famous piece. We are always keen to support Bristol Harbour Festival, so taking the grand finale to the water to be enjoyed by as many Bristol families as possible is guaranteed to be a memorable moment.”

More information on the performance including details of the flotilla route and timings will be available at bristolharbourfestival.co.uk.