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Meet the Artistic Director of Handel’s Messiah

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By Niamh Walsh on 29th November 2022

Meet Gregory Batsleer, the Artistic Director of Classical Everywhere and the visionary behind Handel's Messiah: The Live Experience; a new-style classical music immersive experience taking place in London's West End.

Crafted to captivate both classical music enthusiasts and newcomers to the genre, "Handel’s Messiah: The Live Experience" will grace the stage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, for a sole evening on December 6th, 2022. This exceptional event marks the debut of a groundbreaking style of classical music concert.

The inaugural performance revolves around Handel's renowned masterpiece, "Messiah," a composition of unparalleled acclaim and a favoured selection on Desert Island Discs. This event guarantees an exceptional spectacle, featuring virtuoso musicians and a fusion of pioneering lighting design, imaginative visual effects, choreography, and staging. As a result, the audience will be fully immersed in a dramatic and novel presentation of Handel's cherished musical narrative, which narrates the story of Christ and delves into universal human themes encompassing birth, hope, joy, suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.

In an exclusive interview, Niamh Walsh engages in conversation with the ingenious visionary behind this ambitious endeavor, Gregory Batsleer. Renowned as the Chorus Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, along with being the principal conductor of the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Choir, Batsleer has garnered acclaim as one of the preeminent choral conductors of our time—an accolade that is well-deserved given the magnitude of his accomplishments and creative insights.

Gregory Batsleer, Artistic Director of Classical Everywhere
Gregory Batsleer, Artistic Director of Classical Everywhere

What inspired you to pursue a career in music? Is there a specific moment from when you were young? Was it an eccentric teacher, or a transcendent piece of music you heard? Please divulge to our readers...

 My journey with music began at home. My parents took me to concerts from as early as I can remember. There was an old piano at my grandparents’ house and I remember spending many happy hours bashing away on that guy trying to make noises and sounds. A little later I happened to join my primary school choir, mainly because at the time it allowed me to get out of class! However, I would say joining this school choir was when I first became hooked on how powerful music can be. After this, it's been very much a journey of luck, fortune and passion. Once one is hooked on the powers of music it’s hard to do anything else.

You're considered one of the leading choral conductors of our generation, and a creative visionary. How are you shaking up the classical experience and challenging the conventions of classical music, and thus, the classical world?

Classical music is brilliant but the way it is often presented is, in my option, very dated and causes serious concerns about the future of the art form. We have to move away from viewing classical music as a precious museum piece.  We live in a fast-paced image-conscious world, with the culturally inquisitive constantly craving new experiences that can offer something different. At Classical Everywhere we are actively challenging to the conventions of what a classical experience is and can be.  We are performing some of the greatest pieces ever written with some of the best musicians in the world, putting them on great stages – but doing it in a way we think relates to the appetites of a modern audience. My view is that the best art and cultural experiences respond to the world outside and my hope is that those of us lucky enough to be in the classical music industry can seek new and exciting ways of making this somewhat old but beautiful music speak clearly in a modern world.   

I have vivid memories of being 12 years old, singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah with my school choir. Do you remember the first time you discovered the work of Handel? And if so, what piece struck a chord (if you pardon the pun!) with you?

Handel’s Messiah is the first piece I ever conducted in concert. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember. I found a CD of it in my teens and have been playing this amazing work on repeat ever since.  It’s hard to choose one particular moment in the work as the genius of the piece is its vast array of emotional content. However, the soprano aria ‘I know my redeemer liveth’ is one of the most beautiful things ever written.  It is so simple in its melody and meaning yet coveys so much depth to those who hear it.    

How will this classical concert differ from a normal performance of Handel's Messiah? What makes this an immersive experience that will appeal to wider audiences? 

 We are actively avoiding the use of the word ‘concert' when describing our performance on December 6th.  It’s an experience akin to a gig and show.  We want to banish all the preconceived ideas and tired etiquette that constantly stigmatises classical music.  We want audiences to feel part of it and to be entertained. The experience we hope will be totally fresh and new. We are using many art forms and collaborating with lots of artists to awaken all senses. Without giving too much away, this will be an experience to inspire the senses. Think Classical music meets the very best of the West End!

And finally, please share your 3 favourite pop songs/ ballads you enjoy listening to when you're not listening to classical! 

1) Champagne Supernova by Oasis - as a proud Mancunian, this was the anthem of my upbringing and is in my opinion one of the greatest songs ever written.

2) Get Movin by Jungle - a piece that I guarantee will make anyone feel in a better mood when listening to it.

3)  True Love Will Find You In The End – a totally genius song by Daniel Johnston.

Handel's Messiah: The Live Experience

Venue: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Running Time: 2 hours including an interval

Tickets available, click here to book.

One night only: Tuesday 6th December 2022

Doors: from 7pm, show starts at 7.30pm

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