Nicholas McGegan is loved by audiences and orchestras for performances that match authority with enthusiasm, scholarship with joy, and curatorial responsibility with evangelical exuberance. The London Independent calls him “one of the finest baroque conductors of his generation” and The New Yorker lauds him as “an expert in 18th-century style.”
Through twenty-five years as its music director, McGegan has established the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorale as the leading period performance ensemble in America – and at the forefront of the ‘historical’ movement worldwide thanks to notable appearances at Carnegie Hall, the London Proms, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the International Handel Festival, Göttingen where he was artistic director from 1991 to 2011. Beginning in the 2013-14 season he becomes Principal Guest Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony.
In Göttingen and with Philharmonia, he has defined an approach to period style that sets the current standard: probing, serious but undogmatic, recognising that the music of the past doesn’t belong in a museum or in academia but in vigorous engagement with an audience, for pleasure and delight on both sides of the platform edge.
‘If Nicholas McGegan is conducting’, wrote the Los Angeles Times, ‘closing your eyes means missing something vital. Other conductors may interpret baroque scores as plains of sewing machine rhythms and textures; McGegan finds in them rivulets, courses, hairpin turns and breezes gusting through valleys and up and around mountains… At every move, his musicians respond instantly, fluidly, and the music springs into life and stays alive’.
Active in opera as well as the concert hall, he was principal conductor of Sweden’s perfectly preserved 18th-century theatre Drottingholm 1993-6, running the annual festival there. And he has been a pioneer in the process of exporting historically informed practice beyond the small world of period instruments to the wider one of conventional symphonic forces, guest-conducting orchestras like the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Toronto Symphony, and Sydney Symphony, the New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong Philharmonics, the Northern Sinfonia and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as well as opera companies including Covent Garden, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Washington.
His discography of over 100 releases includes the world premiere recording of Handel’s Susanna, which attracted both a Gramophone Award and Grammy nomination, and recent issues of the same composer’s Solomon, Samson, and Acis and Galatea (a rarity in that it unearths the little-known version adapted by Felix Mendelssohn). He is also credited with the first performance in modern times of Handel’s masterly but mislaid Gloria. Under their new label, Philharmonia Baroque Productions (PBP), Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has recently released three archival recordings: Berlioz’ Le Nuit d’ete and selected Handel arias with the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Haydn Symphonies no 88, 101 and 104, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and other concerti with Elizabeth Blumenstock as violin soloist.
Mr. McGegan has enjoyed dance collaborations with Mark Morris, notably the premiere performances of Morris’s production of Rameau’s Platée at the Edinburgh Festival and L’Allegro at Ravinia and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York.
Mr. McGegan is committed to the next generation of musicians, frequently conducting and coaching students in residencies and engagements at Yale University, the Juilliard School, Aspen Music Festival and School, and the Music Academy of the West.
Born in England, Nicholas McGegan was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and taught at the Royal College of Music, London. He was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for 2010 “for services to music overseas.” His awards also include the Halle Handel Prize, an honorary professorship at Georg-August University, Göttingen; the Order of Merit of the State of Lower Saxony (Germany); the Medal of Honour of the City of Göttingen, and an official Nicholas McGegan Day, declared by the Mayor of San Francisco in recognition of two decades’ distinguished work with the Philharmonia Baroque.
The citation on that curious day talked loftily of his achievement in presenting ‘great music that enriches lives, inspires passion for period instrument performance, connects audiences to history, preserves tradition, and celebrates creative genius’.
But as McGegan himself said when a journalist talked admiringly of his work with an orchestra: ‘I’m not working with them. I’m having fun with them’. It makes a difference.
Visit Nicholas McGegan on the web at www.nicholasmcgegan.com.