Links to recent online news articles are posted, along with excerpts from published performance reviews. For further information, please email us or call (415) 252-1288, ext. 315
April 2013: Heroic Theseus
“[Teseo] is very rarely performed, although it contains delectable arias orchestrated with exceptional attention to variety and color. The cast, led by the glowing soprano Dominique Labelle as the witch Medea, and the outstanding lyric soprano Amanda Forsythe in the title role, also afforded many moments of unalloyed musical pleasure. But for the most part it was the irrepressible positive energy of the orchestra that breathed life into this three-and-a-half-hour performance.” – Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in The New York Times.
“As always with Handel, the score is replete with musical splendors – sinuous and heartfelt melodies, displays of vocal bravura, instrumental obbligatos artfully designed to match the dramatic situation… McGegan is such a long-standing master of this repertoire that the score practically glistens under his fastidious care. Dominique Labelle… was at once vengeful and vulnerable with a combination of limpid vocal tone and rhythmic ferocity.” – Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“To label George Friedrich Handel’s opera “Teseo” a neglected gem is a rather gross understatement. The third of the so-called “London” operas, churned out as the prolific 28-year-old German composer was just becoming the toast of that merry olde town, Teseo premiered at the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket in 1713, enjoyed a successful, if somewhat problematic run — and dropped out of the repertoire for 234 years!” – Sue Gilmore at the Contra Costa Times.
March 2013: The Italian Violin with Rachel Podger
“This was a friendly gathering of colleagues all assembled for the joy of making music. Those of us audience side were merely eavesdropping on an intimate occasion. Fortunately, the joy of that occasion had no trouble spilling off the edge of the Herbst stage and into the audience.” – Stephen Smoliar at Examiner.com.
“Not only did Rachel Podger, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Katherine Kyme and Carla Moore perform with clarity, fluidity, and unrelenting good humor, but the stellar acoustics of the Bing made every riff sound exquisitely articulated. This was far from an academic performance but one with warmth, grace, and fun – a word not often used in the concert hall.” – Cy Ashley Webb at Stark Insider.
“Podger is a most ‘interactive’ soloist. On stage, she doesn’t take herself too seriously and connects very directly and intimately both with the audience and with her fellow musicians — conducting them with, at times, whimsical facial and bodily expressions. Where Vivaldi (whose music somehow sounds eternally optimistic and, to me at least, bright “yellow”) was exploring the extremes of the Baroque violin, Podger followed with grace and ease, nimbly dancing across the strings and almost casually throwing around the composer’s many trills and adornments.” – Niels Swinkels at San Francisco Classical Voice.
February 2013: Essence of Classical Style
“You haven’t heard Philharmonia Baroque until you’ve heard them at Stanford’s new Bing Concert Hall. The sound is glorious and fully blended like a superb recording on an expensive stereo system played in a perfect room.” – Christine Baker at Peninsula Reviews.
“This performance must have been a real surprise to anyone casually acquainted with the composer’s [J.C. Bach's] polite chamber music and operas. The biggest kick came with the ending, which, after a movement’s worth of thundering, suddenly dies off quietly. McGegan turned away from the musicians with a mock shrug.”
- David Bratman at San Francisco Classical Voice.
“The nature of the classical style has been a matter of considerable discussion, much of it emerging after Charles Rosen wrote his extended study, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, in 1971… For Rosen the individuals who mattered most were Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven.”
- Stephen Smoliar at Examiner.com.
January: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Tour
“Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock… was dazzling. She was able to elicit a hauntingly beautiful tone from her Guarneri. The audience was transfixed, leaning forward silently to hear every note of these pianissimo passages. ” Read more in Peninsula Reviews.
Carmel Music Society – Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock & Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Jeff DeMarco, Peninsula Reviews (January 14, 2013)
“Among the finest performances of these underrated works.” Read more in the New York Times.
-The Best Classical Recordings of 2012, New York Times (December 20, 2012)
“[A] truly treasurable disc.” Read more in the New York Times.
James Oestreich, New York Times (October 26, 2012)
“In this context, the period-instrument sound of the orchestra is particularly pungent, with smoky woodwind sonorities and a raw-edged bite to the string sound.” Read more on SFGate.com
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (December 12, 2012)
“[Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra] under conductor McGegan delivers deeply satisfying realizations of the Brahms Serenades.” Read more on Audiophile Audition.
-Audiophile Audition (September 29, 2012)
December 2012: A Bach Christmas
“The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, joined by guest conductor Masaaki Suzuki, offered an ‘extraordinary now,’ indeed — blending expert execution with an infectious joy.” Read more on San Francisco Classical Voice.
-Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice blog (December 15, 2012)
“[T]he final chorus began and everyone collectively wished that the cantata would never end…Masaaki Suzuki brought out a lightness to this music that is often lacking.” Read more on Stark Insider.
-Cy Ashley Webb, Stark Insider blog (December 15, 2012)
Preview: Massaki Suzuki: The Powers of Bach
-Niels Swinkels, San Francisco Classical Voice (December 7, 2012)
November 2012: Beethoven’s Fourths
“This was the perfect music for this conductor and this orchestra, so beloved for their balance of wit and profundity…This was fine Beethoven playing — damn fine.” Read more on San Francisco Classical Voice.
-Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice (November 10, 2012)
“Every now and then I find myself encountered a performance that elicits that same edge-of-your-seat attention that one finds in a compelling movie narrative; and last night’s interpretation of what I have previously called the most sophisticated of Beethoven’s five piano concertos was just such an occasion.” Read more on examiner.com.
-Stephen Smoliar, Examiner.com (November 10, 2012)
“Clear, direct, intimate Beethoven.” Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.
-Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News (November 9, 2012)
October 2012: Purcell’s Dioclesian
“A spectacular performance…Music Director Nicholas McGegan…led with his customary blend of finesse, buoyancy, and musical insight, and the orchestra responded with playing of tremendous verve and precision.” Read more on San Francisco Classical Voice.
-Georgia Rowe, San Francisco Classical Voice blog (October 3, 2012)
“[E]lectrically exhilarating…I haven’t had a better evening in the concert hall since the 31st season of PBO.” Read more on Stark Insider.
-Cy Ashley Webb, Stark Insider blog (October 5, 2012)
2012 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition
“The finest of the [Scottish folk-song arrangements by Haydn and Beethoven] combine sentiment and charm in deft proportions, and Labelle and McGegan brought both qualities to their performances.” Read more on SFGate.com.
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (June 6, 2012)
2011-12 Season Reviews
“One of the great displays of musical oratory comes in “Alexander’s Feast,” the Handelian ode that brought the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s season to a splendid close in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church on Sunday night…[T]he orchestra, led with wit and panache by Music Director Nicholas McGegan and graced by the presence of three excellent vocal soloists, played it superbly. Read more on SFGate.com.
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco ChronicleSan Jose Mercury News
Review: Philharmonia Baroque delivers another polished gem from Handel in ‘Alexander’s Feast’
By Georgia Rowe
“Presiding over a vibrant orchestra, the always-impressive Philharmonia Chorale, and a first-rate team of vocal soloists — soprano Dominique Labelle, alto Celeste Winant, tenor Dann Coakwell, and baritone Philip Cutlip — McGegan demonstrated once again that when it comes to Handel’s music, this ensemble is second to none…
“McGegan placed the four-movement concerto between the two acts of the oratorio; under his energetic direction and featuring Philharmonia’s excellent violin section led by concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock, it received a zesty, buoyant performance.
“Still, the main event was ‘Alexander’s Feast,’ and McGegan made a strong case for it…
“Thursday’s opening concert found everyone onstage performing with exemplary skill and focus. Labelle, whose Philharmonia appearances always seem to enhance the orchestra’s artistry, sang with an affecting blend of vocal purity and dramatic expression… Winant, a member of the Philharmonia Chorale, made pristine contributions. Coakwell lent firm tone and articulate phrasing to the tenor part, and Cutlip handled the ‘Revenge’ aria with robust muscularity. The orchestra played with flair; in addition to Blumenstock, there were excellent individual contributions from violinist Lisa Weiss, cellist William Skeen, trumpeters John Thiessen and Fred Holmgren and recordists Hanneke von Proosdij and Kathryn Montoya…
“This is music to incite heated emotions and extreme acts, and Bruce Lamott’s Philharmonia Chorale tore into it with considerable poise, unified attacks and exceptional fervor.”
San Francisco Classical Voice
Alexander’s Scrumptious Feast
by Jason Victor Serinus
“Is there a lover of Baroque vocal music who does not eagerly await Nicholas McGegan’s annual spring jaunt with Handel? What other conductor and Bay Area Baroque ensemble can invest the master’s operas, oratorios, and not so easily classifiable vocal creations with such an irresistible combination of rhythmic verve and sheer delight?
“…The evening belonged to McGegan and Labelle.
“The soprano, looking radiant in a muted salmon gown that complemented her reddish hair, was in impeccable voice. Her high tones, virtually shorn of vibrato, shone with unblemished purity… With her vocal beauty and shining countenance reigning over the evening as Thais did over Alexander’s senses, she was a joy to listen to…
“The brief duet with the superb cellist William Skeen was heavenly…
“The perfection of sound and blend that Bruce LaMott has achieved with the Philharmonia Chorale must be the envy of early music conductors worldwide.
“Paul Avril and Lawrence Ragent’s harmonizing horns were as sublime in the bass air and chorus, ‘Bacchus, ever fair and young’ as were Elizabeth Blumenstock and Lisa Weiss’ violins in the Concerto Grosso in D. Equally outstanding were Hanneke van Proosdij and Kathryn Montoya’s recorders and the entire viola section in the introduction to ‘Thus long ago,’ and John Thiessen’s trumpet solo in ‘Revenge, revenge.’ “
Read more online.
PBO closes season with a feast
5 out of 5 stars – ‘Outstanding – Starkie!’
by Cy Ashley Webb
“At the risk of sounding preposterous, the current offering of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is no ordinary PBO concert. Prefaced by a pre-concert discussion between conductor Nicholas McGegan and director Bruce Lamott, the positively bacchanalian Alexander’s Feast brought this 2011-2012 season to a close…
“The first half of the evening was dominated by Dominique Labelle. If you were stone-cold deaf and not immediately won over by her honey-toned coloratura, you’d be taken in by her laugh-aloud simpering treatment of several airs… Her theatrics alone are worth the price of admission.
“The second half of the evening belonged to Dann Coakwell and Philip Cutlip. Since the concert, I’ve downloaded a half-dozen treatments of the air ‘The king seiz’d a flambeau,’ and none of them comes anywhere close to Coakwell’s treatment. Likewise, the ferocity of Cutlip’s ‘Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries’ gave the second half an intensity not found earlier in the evening.
“After an evening such as this, one waits with baited breath for the 2012-2013 season.”
Read more online.
Schumann’s Cello Concerto
San Jose Mercury News
Cellist Steven Isserlis and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra scale heights of Schumann concerto
By Georgia Rowe
“With all its expertise in the music of its namesake era, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s forays into the classical and early Romantic repertory can yield abundant rewards. This week’s splendid program by the acclaimed early music ensemble is an excellent case in point. Friday’s concert at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, conducted by music director Nicholas McGegan, included Romantic works you’re more likely to hear performed by modern orchestras: Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129; Brahms’ Serenade No 2 in A major, Op. 16; and Mendelssohn’s “The Fair Melusine,” Op. 32. Yet with McGegan leading the kind of crisp, rhythmically buoyant performances that characterize his exploration of Baroque operas and oratorios, these Romantic works sounded newly minted and surprisingly weighty…
“Adding vigor and consummate musicianship to the mix was cellist Steven Isserlis, whose solo work in Schumann’s concerto was nothing short of exemplary… His playing Friday in the fervently imagined, richly scored 1850 work captured its vivacity and remarkable depth of feeling… The cellist sailed through the work’s manic episodes and mournful interludes, negotiating its hairpin turns with keen articulation and a wide range of dynamics in the outer movements. And he conferred glowing, rapturous tone on the slow, long-breathed central movement.
“For his part, McGegan deftly steered the performance through Schumann’s fleet passagework, eliciting brisk, unified playing from each section of the orchestra and enforcing a welcome sense of restraint in the score’s moments of quiet reflection.
“Brahms’ Serenade, presented after intermission, also benefited from McGegan’s firm, clear-eyed approach. In the wistful, rather melancholy first movement, he shaped the music with admirable drive and rhythmic precision; no mushy, overtly sentimental Romanticism for this conductor. The violins, led by concertmaster Katherine Kyme, produced wiry, distinctive tone, and the cellos, prominently arrayed, sounded effusive. Yet the woodwinds, voicing eloquently — gentle clarinets and bassoons, soaring oboes — took pride of place.”
Read more online.
PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE | MARCH 10, 2012
SF Classical Music Examiner
“A Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra program of three nineteenth-century compositions may seem a bit anachronistic (or at least inconsistent with the ensemble’s name); but they always turn out to be both refreshing and informative. The nineteenth century was a transitional period in the technology development of musical instruments. Ensembles were getting larger, composers influenced by the Romantic movement were getting more expressive, audiences were more likely to be paying customers than invited guests, and, as Scott Foglesong observed in his talk before last night’s PBO concert at Herbst Theatre, the role of the conductor was getting stronger and occurring more frequently…
“As always seems to be the case, Music Director Nicholas McGegan served as the perfect tour guide for this journey. He allowed each of the three compositions to unfold with its own respective rhetorical strategy; and he was positively jolly with Brahms’ over-the-top approach to his concluding Rondo. His chemistry with cellist Steven Isserlis made for an accessible presentation of Schumann’s large-scale architecture while also accounting for those details through which the expressiveness of Isserlis’ solo performing would emerge. To return to my initial adjective, the entire evening was a refreshing take on the nineteenth century, far more satisfying than most of the industrially-polished products we get from major concert halls and recording studios.”
Read more online.
Richard Egarr: Masters of the English Baroque
San Francisco Classical Voice
English Delights From the PBO
by Jonathan Rhodes Lee
“That greatest of all `English’ composers, Handel, welcomed us with his symphony from Saul. This piece from Handel’s fourth English oratorio was the perfect choice to open a set featuring a world-class orchestra and a guest conductor who also happens to be one of early music’s most technically gifted harpsichordists.
“Oboist Marc Schachman’s playing of rapid, Italianate passagework was stunning.
“Egarr is a charismatic, energetic, and musically sensitive performer, who clearly brought a huge helping of enthusiasm to the table. The audience gobbled up every morsel he delivered… Egarr’s appeal extended far beyond these ancillary features. At the root of it was his consummate musicianship.
“This was a special program — a rare opportunity to sample a couple hours’ worth of English instrumental music and to be reminded that England was never, ever the “Land ohne Musik.” …Egarr and the PBO deserve the most unabashed praise.”
Read more online.
The Examiner | JANUARY 28, 2012
Philharmonia Baroque surveys over a century of the English Baroque
SF Classical Music Examiner
“Egarr is a highly personable individual, who provided informative remarks for each of the compositions he had selected for his program…
“Arne’s harpsichord concerto abounds with deceptive cadences, almost erratic phrases, and gruff high-energy demands on the soloist. Egarr hurled himself into this rhetorical context with great vigor, first warming up the orchestra as conductor and then merrily galumphing his way through the solo work. The whole affair was as refreshing as it was challenging to one’s usual expectations…
“Egarr brought us to more familiar ground with a suite of instrumental selections from Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. He explained that these were his personal favorites; and that is how he conducted them, offering particularly energetic readings of the dance selections…
“Throughout the evening Egarr made his mark with lively interpretations. He was both comfortable and capable in the period practice of performing while conducting. His rapport with the ensemble was good… the evening proceeded at a brisk pace that well suited its diverse breadth of offerings.” Read more online.
Richard Egarr revives baroque music
By Daniel Means
The Daily Californian
Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm
“Guest-conducting the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Richard Egarr, aimed at striking a balance between celebrating the peculiarities of the period, while reinvigorating modern interest in the musical era.
“Richard Egarr was a veritable triple-threat as the orchestra’s enthusiastic, oriental-robed conductor, an energetic harpsichordist and even a comedic emcee at Herbst Theatre last Friday. Such eccentric multi-tasking provided rich moments where he would have one hand commanding the keys of his harpsichord while using the other to emphatically gesture to his orchestra to the point of caricature…
“Egarr’s enthusiasm moved the orchestra to musically narrate dramatic scenes, ripe with epic grandeur. In a piece by once soldier and composer William Lawes, the orchestra created vast landscapes with their rich, voluminous notes…
“Egarr displayed exquisite control over the emotional direction of pieces, producing dynamic movements with fine-tuned transitions between pristine calms and violent crescendos…” Read more online.
All Things English: Richard Egarr and the Philharmonia Baroque
Cy Ashley Webb
“The synergy between Egarr and the PBO seems obvious. His running commentary on the music between pieces added enormously to the program…
“Egarr’s considerable keyboard skills were on display for the better part of the evening as he conducted from the harpsichord. It’s often easy to overlook the harpsichord as it chugs along in the background, providing the basso continuo that drives the music forward. However, in the hands of Egarr, it becomes variously percussive, mournful, exuberant – all the while pushing the music forward.
“Principal March Schachman and Gonzalo Ruiz, both on oboe, tendered compelling performances..
“The Philharmonia Baroque excels at uncovering unknown or relatively unappreciated gems, such as Williams Lawes.” Read more online.
Handel’s Messiah at Disney Hall
Los Angeles Times
Music review: Philharmonia Baroque ‘Messiah’ at Disney Hall
By Mark Swed
December 14, 2011 |
“Twenty years ago, Nicholas McGegan recorded Handel’s “Messiah” with his Philharmonia Baroque in what felt like a revelatory performance of an overly familiar work. Tuesday night, McGegan and his Bay Area period-instrumental ensemble brought their current “Messiah” to Walt Disney Concert Hall for the first of two performances. Two decades in the life of an oratorio that has been a repertory staple for nearly 270 years -– it is the only Baroque work that has never been out of fashion -– shouldn’t make all that much difference. But it can.
“That older McGegan “Messiah” does, in fact, hold up well. It is lively. It makes its musicological points with infectious glee. And it featured some timeless singing, especially in the deeply affecting soprano solos by the incomparable Lorraine Hunt.
“The performance at Disney had a different, deeper character. No longer making points, McGegan now was content in simply pointing out the musical wonders of Handel’s score. It was a mellow “Messiah,” richly expressive, never exotic. The lessons of musicology have been absorbed into a complex and rich new performance practice.
“…This was maybe the least dogmatic and most universal “Messiah” I have ever heard.”
Read more online.
International Review of Music
by Don Heckman
“There are a lot of entrancing elements one anticipates from any given performance of Handel’s Messiah. An opportunity to experience the music, the language and the spiritual perspectives of the mid-18th century… All those qualities, and a lot more, were present Wednesday night at Disney Hall for the performance of Messiah by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Philharmonia Chorale… Hearing the familiar Messiah music performed in this kind of acoustic environment – so close to what Handel had in mind when he composed the work (and then re-cast it for a variety of instrumental combinations) — was a mesmerizing experience… One couldn’t have asked anything more from the Philharmonia Chorale… As always, this week has produced, and will continue to produce, a variety of Messiah performances, from church choirs to fully professional ensembles. Wednesday’s interpretation by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Philharmonia Choir has to be considered one of this season’s most memorable.”
Read more online.
Bach’s Mass in B Minor
San Francisco Examiner
Bach’s Splendid Choral Diversity
By Stephen Smoliar
December 3, 2011
“A performance of BWV 232 is one of the grandest adventures in how we on audience side can listen to polyphony as much as it is a major undertaking for orchestra, chorus, and soloists (both vocal and instrumental)… It was clear that McGegan accepted this premise of adventure, and his explorations of all those threads that weave the texture of Bachʼs polyphony made for some of the most stimulating listening experiences of the season. Ultimately this always came down to making sure that every line of a complex contrapuntal configuration had its proper say. In this respect McGegan offered a clear and comprehensible reading of how those component voices would shift place between foreground and background. He also recognized when Bach would strip down his resources to chamber music scale, often at a “trio sonata” level of vocalist, instrumental soloist, and continuo; and he would similarly scale back his presence as a conductor to let the chamber music run its course…
“The result was Bach at his most devout executed in a manner that was both informative and entertaining without compromising any of the composerʼs religious values, in other words the perfect setting for listening to Bachʼs sacred music.”
Read more online.
Marion Verbruggen & the Italian Baroque Recorder
San Francisco Classical Voice
The “I”s Have It at PBO
BY JONATHAN RHODES LEE
November 19, 2011
“Recorder virtuoso Marion Verbruggen joined the band, bringing her usual confident swagger and nonchalant virtuosity. Verbruggen is a constant favorite of Bay Area audiences, and it’s impossible to forget why. Her rendition of Vivaldi’s La tempesta di mare on alto recorder was delightfully creative, with charming touches that had the audience chuckling. Such clarity of communication requires an artist with firm interpretive ideas, which Verbruggen possesses in great abundance…
“Dantone is as comfortable at the keyboard as he is on a conductor’s podium, and he drew on his multiple talents for this set. He was hardly overbearing as a conductor, allowing the quite capable band to coordinate most things under the watchful eye of Carla Moore, who played principal violin for this set. This freed Dantone to play rather intricate (and very beautiful) continuo realizations throughout the concert. Particularly effective was his approach to the introductory Adagio and slow movement of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 4, which he peppered with little harpsichord cadenzas — a surprising and engaging choice.”
Read more online.
Arias for Farinelli
San Francisco Chronicle
Vivica Genaux with Baroque Orchestra, review:
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Monday, October 31, 2011
“Coloratura singing, as a wise observer remarked, is a bit like dancing on pointe: bizarre and unnatural, but powerfully compelling when done well. Vivica Genaux does it very well indeed.
“The American mezzo-soprano made an all-too-rare return to the Bay Area on Friday night, appearing in Herbst Theatre with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra with a collection of Baroque opera arias. Then she proceeded to give a virtuoso display of precision vocal fireworks.
“Rapid-fire runs, repeated notes, pitch-perfect leaps between registers, elaborate ornamentations of melodic lines that were already fairly ornate to begin with – these are Genaux’s stock-in-trade. With McGegan and the orchestra providing stylish accompaniment, Genaux made a good case for Baroque singing as a thrilling high-wire act.”
Read more online.
San Francisco Classical Voice
Vivica Genaux Brings Down the House
BY ANNA CAROL DUDLEY
October 29, 2011
“Philharmonia Baroque brought mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux to Berkeley on Saturday, and her singing brought down the house. Her first group of arias were by Vivaldi. The second included arias by Nicola Porpora and Riccardo Broschi, written for the celebrated castrato Farinelli.
“Her low voice is gorgeous, and the beauty of her sound carries throughout her range. Her mastery of florid passages and added ornamentation — including inventive cadenzas — is peerless. Her tuning is impeccable. And her connection with her audience is enhanced by her vivid portrayal of character in every role she assumes.
“The two excellent arias by Porpora were deeply felt and delivered. Singing as Acis in recitative and aria — Oh, volesser gli Dei (Ah, would the gods …) and Dolce freschi aurette (Sweet, cool breezes) — she expressed wonderfully Acis’ love for Galatea and his description of her favorite haunts.”
Read more online.
Mozart & Haydn: A Tale of Two Cities
San Francisco Chronicle
Philharmonia Baroque’s lively Mozart pastiche
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
“…the novelty of the offering, combined with Kelley’s distinguished performance, made for a lively concert …
“It’s a tribute to Kelley, or Mozart, or both, that this Frankenstein patchwork emerged as a perfectly credible three-movement concerto. Kelley certainly gets credit for the performance, which was tuneful, lively and full of ingenious turns.
“He flew through the challenging passagework of the final rondo with aplomb, and brought a dark, lustrously singing tone to the central slow movements. ..
“The rest of the program found McGegan and the orchestra pitching vigorously into orchestral music from the period. …
“…the evening concluded with a splendid performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 98, graced by a fluent slow movement and a truly streamlined presto finale. “
Read more on line.
San Francisco Classical Voice
Brilliantly Accessible: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Jonathan Rhodes Lee
September 23, 2011
“Throughout the performance, I was struck by the group’s successful injection of unfamiliar elements into music so omnipresent that it sometimes seems inescapably familiar… The dichotomy was achieved partly by brilliant programming.
“[R.J. Kelley] treated us to a remarkably creative cadenza in the third movement, filled with striking sonorities that only a natural horn can produce. He also used some sounds that I wasn’t aware were possible from that instrument, including harmonic intervals at cadential points (the horn’s version of double stops). The performance was the perfect blend of grace, virtuosity, and humor — just what a concerto from the 18th century is supposed to be…
“Not only did Music Director Nicolas McGegan’s programming for this concert manage to blend the familiar and unfamiliar in a successful mélange, but it also tied everything together into a neat package through other means.
“In the first and second movements of [the “Prague” symphony], Mozart couples strict canons and invertible counterpoint with such an accessible musical language that it’s easy to overlook the careful architectural planning that went into the work’s construction. These structural gambits were rendered crystal clear by the crisp sound of PBO’s instruments and their expert players.
“…Philharmonia Baroque approached it with such inventiveness that it was as fresh and exciting as it must have sounded to Mozart-hungry Prague in 1781. McGegan and the ensemble held nothing back, letting the sound absolutely wail in the work’s most impassioned moments. This was not ‘Mozart for your newborn…’”
Read more on line.
Summer Festival Tour Reviews
August 23, 2011
McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Doing Handel’s Orlando at Tanglewood—Less is More
Nicholas McGegan and his merry band of singers and instrumentalists rolled into Tanglewood on Tuesday night to wrap up their tour of Handel’s great opera Orlando after taking it to Germany, Chicago, and New York City. The wear and tear of a tour were nowhere evident in their joyful presentation of music and theatrics—the performers still sounded like they were in the thrall of first love with this rich and rewarding score.
Read more on line.
John von Rhein
August 13, 2011
Philharmonia Baroque handles ‘Orlando’
“…Conductor Nicholas McGegan’s San Francisco-based ensemble returned to Ravinia on Thursday night to present a concert version of one of the gems of Baroque opera, Handel’s Orlando. In virtually every respect this was a model of how to bring works of the period alive, in stylish if stripped-down form…
“The orchestra’s playing was unfailingly alert, full of vitality, attentive to dramatic flow, the clean timbres of gut strings aerated by pairs of alto recorders and natural horns, with theorbo (long-necked lute) and harpsichord continuo helping the recitatives to flow with the naturalness of conversation.”
Read more on line.
Philharmonia Baroque’s “Orlando” makes for an evening of musical delights at Ravinia
By Dennis Polkow
Fri Aug 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm
“…The spectacular touring production of Orlando that touched down at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre Thursday night celebrates the 30th anniversary of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, which music director Nicholas McGegan has been leading for 25 of those years.
“To hear a first-rate period-instrument performance of a Handel opera in an intimate venue with a large cast of singers who are true masters of the period technique that these works require is nothing short of a revelation.
“There are huge benefits to playing together for a quarter of a century: so much was communicated with so little means, and the transparency of lines were crystal clear, the ensemble tight and balances between orchestra and singers always showing each to equal benefit…”
Read more on line.
August 16, 2011
A Magician Pulling Strings to Prove a Point: Love Stinks
By ALLAN KOZINN
“…Orlando has a persuasive new champion in Nicholas McGegan, who led his superb Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco and five fine singers in an invigorating performance at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday afternoon, as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival.
“…The soprano Yulia Van Doren made the most of these comic implications in her portrayal of Dorinda but never overdid them. Her voice blossomed as Handel fleshed out her character, and she — like the other singers here — brought consistently interesting, often athletic embellishments to the repeated sections.
“…Dominique Labelle used her flexible, burnished soprano thoughtfully in her dignified characterization of Angelica, and her florid ornamentation was often dazzling.
“Diana Moore, the mezzo-soprano, matched those qualities beautifully in her smooth-toned, compassionate account of Medoro. Zoroastro’s appearances are few, but Wolf Matthias Friedrich, a bass with a rich, deep tone, sang them commandingly.”
Read more on line.
August 15, 2011 5:49 pm
Orlando, Lincoln Center, New York
By Martin Bernheimer
“Celebrating musical razzle-dazzle, period-instrumental illumination and stylish embellishment in depth, the Mostly Mozart Festival presented Handel’s Orlando, uncut. The hero was Nicholas McGegan, who guided his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco through the operatic cabals, curlicues and convolutions, anno 1733, with gusto and savoir-faire, also infectious affection…”
Read more on line.
Handel’s ‘Orlando’: The Magic’s in the Music
By MIKE SILVERMAN For The Associated Press
NEW YORK August 15, 2011 (AP)
“There was magic aplenty on the stage of Alice Tully Hall during a concert version of Handel’s opera Orlando, presented as part of the Mostly Mozart festival.
“The magician-in-chief was Nicholas McGegan, who conducted his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Sunday afternoon with unflagging energy and led five exemplary singers through their grueling paces in the solo roles.
“Beaming broadly as if entranced by the great fun of it all, McGegan made the nearly 3 1/2-hour performance fly by — much like the four genies who at one point are supposed to swoop down over the stage in the company of an eagle.”
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Feeling the love for ‘Orlando’
By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent August 18, 2011
“The revival of Handel’s operas waited until the modern era. “Orlando,’’ for instance, superbly performed by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and conductor Nicholas McGegan at Tanglewood on Tuesday night, first reached these shores only in 1971. Perhaps that’s because seemingly modern anxieties over vulnerability and folly were what Handel was most keen to redeem…
“The San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque uses period-accurate instruments (and were arranged on the Ozawa Hall stage in an historically authentic closed oval), but their playing laced precision with a heady dose of abandon. Triple rhythms swung hard; phrases were decorated with swells and dynamic swoops in swooning abundance. McGegan presided with genial vigor, encouraging and enjoying the extravagance…”
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Stephen Smoliar previews the February concerts for examiner.com (January 12, 2011)
Philharmonia Baroque theorbo player David Tayler is highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ovation section (San Francisco Chronicle - January 31, 2011)
Philharmonia Baroque inaugurates its new recording label with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. (San Francisco Classical Voice – January 11, 2011)
The October concert (Bach’s Wedding Cantata) selected among Top 10 Classical Concerts of 2010 by the San Francisco Classical Voice (December 27, 2010)
Learn about where we’ve been and where we’re going in Jesse Hamlin’s article “The Joyful Long Life of Philharmonia Baroque” (San Francisco Classical Voice – October 5, 2010)
2010-2011 Season Reviews
Haydn’s Creation (April 2011)
“Magnificent performance by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the conclusion and the high point of their 30th anniversary season. Leading an expanded performing ensemble in Herbst Theatre, McGegan invested Haydn’s dramatic canvas with plentiful helpings of theatrical flair and sheer celebratory beauty. McGegan conducted with tenderness and vibrancy, drawing robust and richly colored playing from the orchestra. The Philharmonia Chorale, led by Bruce Lamott, made a glorious noise as the heavenly hosts.” Read more at SFGate.com
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (April 10, 2011)
“As has been consistently the case, McGegan led his resources with brisk and energetic precision. No element of Haydn’s inventiveness was lost, whether it involved his many strokes of wit, his sophisticated management of melody and harmony, or his ingenious approaches to instrumentation. The diction of both soloists and chorus was excellent, making the libretto text in the program book almost unnecessary. Most importantly, the overall sense of balance among all of these resources never faltered. No detail was neglected, and the function of each of those details was always evidently clear.” Read more at examiner.com
-Stephen Smoliar, examiner.com (April 9, 2011)
Zheng Cao (March 2011)
Cao brought “rueful grace to the first song and winning vivacity to the third. She also sounded fine in a pair of Handel arias… Her elegant rendition of “Che faro senza Euridice” was the centerpiece of a set of selections from Gluck’s ”Orfeo ed Euridice,” which began with a superb account of the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” featuring flutists Stephen Schultz and Mindy Rosenfeld. McGegan and the orchestra brought energy and clarity to the rest of the program.” Read more on SF Gate.com
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (March 7, 2011)
Gabriele Cassone (February 2011)
“Dazzling nineteenth-century sounds from Philharmonia Baroque…. Cassone…delivered a masterful performance… The unique character of each work was excellently served by the sonorities of the Philharmonia Baroque period instruments.” Read more on examiner.com.
-Stephen Smoliar, examiner.com (Feb. 12, 2011)
“Cassone’s elegant, mellifluous performance was a spellbinding affair… Engrossing concert.” Read more on SF Gate.
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (Feb. 14, 2011)
David Daniels (January 2011)
“David Daniels’ voice is voluptuous…[i]t lusciously rides on long streams of breath, making curlicues in the air, or following stepped ornamentations toward release in a single light-filled word — way up in the countertenor’s extraordinarily high range.” Read more on Mercury News.
-Richard Scheinin, Mercury News (Jan. 16, 2011)
“Animated and friendly, the melody of the first moment [of Telemann's concerto] was thrown back and forth between horns and violin – and in a small way made some part of the universe right.” Read more at Stark Insider.
-Cy Ashley Webb, Stark Insider (Jan. 18, 2011)
Handel’s Messiah (December 2010)
“Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s performance Saturday, at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, was a triumph. Music Director Nicholas McGegan’s pacing, from the very beginning, connected recitative to aria to chorus in a grand narrative sweep. The chorus and orchestra sang and played as one instrument.” Read more on SFCV
-Anna Carol Dudley, San Francisco Classical Voice (Dec. 4, 2010)
“I was at Sunday’s Philharmonia Baroque performance at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley too, and I, in fact, was glad that I’d torn myself away from “Boardwalk Empire” – I watched a later broadcast that night – for the exhilarating experience. The concert was followed by cheering and stomping I hadn’t heard since the Giants won the series; the only thing that was missing was high fives.” Read more of Leah Garchik’s column on SFGate.com
“All of [the] soloists approached their accompagnato and recitative passages with a keen sensitivity to the act of narration, relating texts that we had all heard more times than can be enumerated as if they were telling a story that really mattered (perhaps more today than when we had first heard that story).” Read more on examiner.com
-Stephen Smoliar, Examiner.com (Dec.4 2010)
“[W]hile other versions overwhelm you with the majesty of this piece, laying voices on instrument to create a wall of sound, [the balance between voices and orchestra] remained distinct, complementing rather than overwhelming each other. This made last night’s performance a more intimate one, drawing the listener in.” Read more on starkinsider.com
-Cy Ashley Webb, StarkInsider (Dec. 5 ,2010)
“…the Philharmonia Chorale, which continues to grow and flourish under the leadership of chorus director Bruce Lamott. “Messiah” offers the chorus one of its meatiest and most brilliant assignments, and the 24-member ensemble responded superbly.” Read more on SFGate
-Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic (Dec. 8, 2010)
“Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s latest offering of Händel’s Messiah was very jolly…The overall impression was that of airy lightness, though all could be heard.” Read more on the Opera Tattler blog.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (November 2010)
“And in these fierce and shapely performances, led by Music Director Nicholas McGegan and featuring vibrant solo playing from violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, there was no mistaking the changes in both climate and sensibility across the course of a year. McGegan brought rhythmic zest to the music, and Blumenstock dispatched her quadruple assignment with technical flair and melodic elegance.” Read more on SFGate
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (Nov. 9, 2010)
“The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Music Director Nicolas McGegan breathed life into this music, in richly satisfying and often surprising ways, in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre on Friday night.” Read more on SFCV
-Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice (Nov. 5, 2010), EarlyMusicNews (Nov. 11, 2010)
“Composed in 1735, the score features a lively duet for two violins, and the orchestra’s Carla Moore and Katherine Kyme dispatched it with sweet, juicy tone. The tender, slow movement showed McGegan and his ensemble at their finest; then again, these are musicians who have worked together for years (this orchestra, unlike many others, has had a very low turnover rate) and always seem to listen, respond, and bring out the distinctive character of each piece they play with consummate flair.” Read more on mercury.com
- Georgia Rowe, Mercury (Nov. 7, 2010)
“Nicholas McGegan, Music Director of Philharmonia Baroque, prepared a rather innovative approach to one of the favorites of the Baroque repertoire for the third concert in his ensemble’s 30th season.” Read more on examiner.com
- Stephen Smoliar, SF Classical Music Examiner blog (Nov. 6, 2010)
Bach’s Wedding Cantata (October 2010)
“He [Lars Ulrik Mortensen] opened the program with the BWV 1066 C major orchestral suite; and, while he provided harpsichord continuo, he made it clear that the ensemble was the focus of attention. This is one of Bach’s longer collections of dance movements, and Mortensen clearly caught the Terpsichorean spirit of each of them.” Read more on examiner.com
-Stephen Smoliar, SF Classical Music Examiner blog (Oct. 16, 2010)
“Mortensen also bonded with the Philharmonia Baroque players in an impressive way. This artist’s credits in early music are extensive;” Read more on mercurynews.com
-Georgia Rowe Mercury (Oct 16, 2010)
“We’re incredibly fortunate because this time the PBO brings us harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen. In equal measures magician and musician, Mortensen held the entire audience transfixed before gently setting them down at the end of the evening, only to look around at each other, mouthing the word “wow.”” Read more on starkinsider.com
-Cy Ashley Webb (Oct. 18, 2010)
Robert Levin plays Mozart (September 2010)
“To hear Mozart played in period style, the only way you could do much better than Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra would be to add the fortepianist Robert Levin into the mix – which is exactly what the orchestra’s splendid season opener has to offer.” Read more on SFGate
-Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (Sept. 28, 2010)
“[McGegan's] conducting gestures are often a bit nonconformist, but they always clearly reflect the musical material and [his] demands on his orchestra… And all of it inspired the players to paint a portrait of Mozart that is more in line with the letters and reminiscences about the man and his performance style than the sanitized mainstream Mozart we’ve come to expect. The results were never inelegant, but neither were they ever overrefined. In short, they were scintillating.” Read more on SFCV
-Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice (Sept. 28, 2010)
“There is an endearing fearlessness – Levin used the word ‘danger’- in going up on stage not knowing what to expect, what cadenzas will fill the concerto or what melodies the audience will throw at him, so we have to salute Levin for his courage and his confidence in his technical abilities. And pulling it off! Live performance is about the unexpected, the chemistry of the instant. Levin chided “cookie cutter” performances, and his was definitely a concert that stands out.” Read more on SFist
-Cedric, sfist.com (Sept. 25, 2010)
“McGegan’s interpretation elevated [the incidental music from Thamos, King of Egypt] beyond the merely “incidental.” Much of this may be attributed to his approach to conducting, which seems to be more focused on teasing out the rhetorical impact of every phrase… The result is that McGegan can endow even the slightest phrase with a significance that seizes the attention, leaving the listener wondering what the next phrase will bring… It is what makes Philharmonic Baroque experiences so exciting.” Read more on examiner.com
-Stephen Smoliar, SF Classical Music Examiner blog (Sept. 25, 2010)
“It was a stunning opener for the Philharmonia Baroque’s thirtieth-anniversary season, one in which Mozart’s music sparkled with the vivacity and chamber-ensemble texture for which Nicholas McGegan’s band is renowned.” Read more on Musical Criticism
-Adeline Mueller, MusicalCriticism.com (Sept. 29, 2010)
2009-2010 Season Reviews
Reviews are listed in reverse order, from the more recent programs (April 2010) to the start of the season (September 2009).
Orlando’s Madness (April 2010)
“I left the theatre in an odd state of grace as I marveled at the newness of finding something so exquisitely beautiful on a random Tuesday night. While this is their last performance of Orlando, Loni better start devising new recipes for cheap eats, as I’ve purchased tickets for their 2010-2011season.”
Cy Ashley Webb, Stark Silver Creek (Apr. 14, 2010)
“As is clear from watching Music Director Nicholas McGegan bounce around the podium, Handel rocks.”
Leah Garchik, San Francisco Chronicle (Apr. 14, 2010)
“The chariot, cloud, and eagle stage machines were gone. So were the genies, fountains, and caverns, and the lush period costumes. But despite the bare set and the singers’ minimally modified concert dress, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s semi-staged performance of Handel’s Orlando (1733) still managed to conjure up fireworks.”
Adeline Mueller, MusicalCriticism.com (Apr. 13, 2010)
“It was a good thing that the band was so perfectly in sync, because we were reliant on them, in this magic opera, to provide all the special effects that would usually come from machines and backdrops in theater productions.”
Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice (Apr. 13, 2010)
“The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has always excelled in the music of Handel, and the acclaimed early music orchestra scored another hit over the weekend with Orlando, one of the composer’s most daring and virtuosic operas… The hall was filled for Sunday’s performance, and as McGegan, the singers and the orchestra took their bows, the crowd jumped to its feet and cheered. What a way to end the season; once again, Philharmonia Baroque and Handel made a formidable team.”
Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury/Contra Costa Times/Oakland Tribune (Apr. 12, 2010)
“Where the performance came most powerfully to life was in the performances of soprano Dominique Labelle and mezzo-soprano Diana Moore, as the lovers at the center of the story. Labelle, who has been a superb regular with Philharmonia for years (she sang the title role in that 2005 Atalanta), added yet another page to her roster of successes as Angelica, the Queen of Cathay.”
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (Apr. 10, 2010)
“The audience left feeling that all very much is “right with the world” of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and that most of us are probably looking forward to the coming season, when the ensemble celebrates its 30th anniversary.”
Stephen Smoliar, SF Classical Music Examiner blog (Apr. 9, 2010)
The French Suite in Europe (March 2010)
“What rang in all our ears as we left the hall that evening were the sounds of the brass players. Simply put, I’ve never heard Philharmonia’s natural horns in better form than they were in this concert; that most beloved of all Handel’s orchestral pieces — the “Alla Hornpipe” from the G-major suite — left me grinning from ear to ear.”
Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice (Mar. 7, 2010)
An Elegant Romance (February 2010)
“Music director Nicholas McGegan prefaced the concert with a few words about the attempts at the historical accuracy on display… All very interesting, but the real test came in performance. And nothing affirmed the power of this approach like the splendid performance of the Serenade No. 1 in D that occupied the first half of the program… Avoiding the sleek, sometimes impersonal quality that can often seep into modern renditions, [McGegan] embraced every opportunity to give the music a musky physicality – especially in the outer movements, whose rhythmic force was arresting.”
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (Feb. 16, 2010)
“Much was splendid. The Serenade, in particular, is a work calculated to bring out all that’s irresistible in McGegan’s conducting — the boisterous energy, the humor, the glee. He was clearly having the time of his life, and the orchestra responded in kind.”
Michelle Dulak Thomson, San Francisco Classical Voice (Feb. 12, 2010)
The Passion of Dido (November 2009)
“The ingredients for a memorable concert performance of Purcell’s compact opera Dido and Aeneas were in place – and they didn’t let us down.”
Richard S. Ginell, Los Angeles Times (Nov. 13, 2009)
“Just about everything about Thursday’s Philharmonia Baroque “Passion of Dido” concert at Herbst Theatre was extraordinary. … What was unexpected came before the opera [Dido and Aeneas]… the brief, utterly simple ‘Hear My Prayer, O Lord.’ That’s when it happened, the unexpected, beyond the big names and even bigger performances. This is when time stopped.”
Janos Gereben, San Francisco Classical Voice (Nov. 10, 2009)
“As wonderful as she was, the evening was decidedly not about Susan Graham. It was a program of glorious music by Britain’s favorite native-born son, presented by one of the world’s great period instrument groups. When Dido urged us to remember her, the sentiment was surely superfluous. Sunday’s concert was hardly an event that we were apt to forget.”
Jonathan Rhodes Lee, San Francisco Classical Voice (Nov. 9, 2009)
“Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, making her first appearance with the period ensemble, sang Dido eloquently and with a masterful command of style. None of it, though, compared with the depth and directness of the final lament, ‘When I am laid in Earth.’ Here Graham mustered all of her tonal splendor and dramatic focus to provide an arresting picture of a woman – and queen – at the end of her tether… The final cry, ‘Remember me,’ was delivered with a controlled fervor that tallied with Dido’s overarching stateliness, and [conductor Nicholas] McGegan brought tenderness to the elegiac final measures, with their aching, bittersweet harmonies.”
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (Nov. 7, 2009)
“Philharmonia Baroque and Nicholas McGegan, its music director, have his number — they play Purcell’s music really well… [The performance's] real stars were the Philharmonia Chorale (every number leaped out like a 3-D projection in a two-dimensional world) and the orchestra, its playing remarkably unified and rhythmically rousing.”
Richard Scheinen, San Jose Mercury/Contra Costa Times/Oakland Tribune (Nov. 6, 2009)
The Concerto – An Adversarial Friendship (October 2009)
“Over the years, the musicians [of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra] have developed a refined sense of ensemble and uncommon unity of purpose. Even so, this program, with [Elizabeth] Wallfisch leading from the first-violin position, seemed to elicit a particularly dynamic response from the group.”
Georgia Rowe, San Francisco Classical Voice (Oct. 11, 2009)
Apotheosis of the Dance (September 2009)
“In an exuberant performance, this Baroque orchestra gave a quintessentially romantic performance of some mainstays of the classical repertory: passionate and full-bodied, with a strikingly lush sound and unrelenting energy.”
Joseph Sargent, San Francisco Classical Voice (Sept. 12, 2009)
“If asked to characterize last night’s performance by Philharmonia Baroque with British cellist Steven Isserlis in a single word, I wouldn’t hesitate to reply. The word is joy.”
Emily Morgan, SF Classical Music Examiner blog (Sept. 16, 2009)
“Under Nicholas McGegan’s direction, this drama plays out as any drama should, leaving us all on the edge of our respective seats wondering what will happen next, no matter how many times we may have previously heard this music.”
Stephen Smoliar, SF Classical Music Examiner blog (Sept. 11, 2009)