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April 2014: Vivaldi’s Venice

“Several centuries before there was any debate about the role of women in combat, Antonio Vivaldi tackled the issue head-on with his dramatic oratorio, Juditha triumphans. Sure, the biblical story from the Apocrypha already had one female warrior at its center – that would be Judith, the Israelite widow who saves her compatriots by hacking off the head of the invading Assyrian general Holofernes. But it was Vivaldi, writing around 1716 for the all-female conservatories of his native Venice, who gave the thing a purely female slant. The result is a striking blend of familiar Baroque convention – the drama emerges in much the same series of formal arias and plot-laden recitatives that shape the operas of the period – and the surprisingly offbeat.” – Joshua Kosman writing in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“McGegan still has a vivid memory of his early experience with [Juditha triumphans]. ‘It was a semi-staged concert in the Basilica of San Zeno. Starting with ladies in armor pouring out of the crypt, calling for slaughter and vengeance, something that could have been an opera, very militant and heroic,’ he says. ‘It struck me as wild and wacky, not at all your typical soothing Vivaldi — and it made a big impression on me.'” – Janos Gereben writing in the San Francisco Examiner.

“It’s hard to imagine a time when Philharmonia ever sounded better. Even if dramatic oratorios leave you cold, only the most senseless would not be entirely beguiled by the delicately melodic mandolin solo, the piping chalumeau (a wind instrument popular roughly from 1700 – 1740) and the half dozen other instrumental solos peppering this piece. Opening with banging timpani and bracing natural trumpet, the color commands your attention – and keeps it until the very end.” – Cy Ashley Webb writing for Stark Insider.

March 2014: Music from the Heart of Europe

“The sound bloomed in a performance of radiant color and texture…” – Georgia Rowe in the San Jose Mercury News

“Given the number of lesser-known composers on the program, the 17th and 18th centuries must be a near-endless source of some of the most beautiful music known to humankind — and the concert demonstrated exactly that.”
– Niels Swinkels writing in San Francisco Classical Voice

The 2014 Family Concert

“The fourth annual family concert at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church will be a mash-up of 17th-century music from the heart of Europe, said the orchestra’s executive director Michael Costa. An estimated 18 musicians, string players, and keyboardists from the core 25-member orchestra, will participate in the performance. Energetic works by composers and rock stars of their day, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, form the one-hour program, which will close with Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D.” – Molly Collin writing for San Francisco Classical Voice

February 2014: C.P.E. Bach and Haydn: Berlin and Vienna

“This week’s concert program by Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra throws a spotlight on C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard music. Pianist Robert Levin, who is both a keyboard virtuoso and an eminent musicologist with a specialty in 18th century style, is the soloist for Bach’s little-known B-Minor Keyboard Concerto, and he’s joined by his wife, Ya-Fei Chuang, for Bach’s Concerto in E-Flat for Fortepiano and Harpsichord.” – Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle

“There was no lack of graceful galant lines or downright playfulness. The Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord in E-flat, which brought a second acclaimed keyboardist, Ya-Fei Chuang (who happens to be Levin’s wife), to the stage, was littered with both. Chuang added her own lyrical skills to the mix, but the duet was especially delightful when they teamed up for both intimate and more virtuosic passages.” – Jamie Apgar writing for San Francisco Classical Voice

February 2014: SESSIONS: A Tale of Two Keyboards

“Nicholas McGegan presented a thoroughly engaging biographical sketch of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. McGegan appreciates the value of spicing up basic facts by presenting them in a humorous context. Indeed, his comic delivery suggested that he could do as much for the appreciation of early music as Anna Russell had done for Richard Wagner. His ‘second banana’ for this introductory material was keyboardist Robert Levin, who gave an arch channeling of English music historian and chronicler Charles Burney describing Emanuel’s skills at the keyboard. All this served to introduce a full performance of this younger Bach’s E-flat major concerto for fortepiano and harpsichord (Wq 47) with Levin on harpsichord joined by his wife Ya-Fei Chuang on fortepiano.” – Stephen Smoliar writing at Examiner.com

“I liked hearing Mr. Levin demonstrate the harpsichord by playing the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. Maestro McGegan was an especially funny and personable speaker. He gleefully pointed out the jokey cuckcoo theme in the Bach and the flatulent bassoon solos in the Haydn. He also told the audience, ‘You don’t need to go to concerts like you’ve recently been mummified.'” – Axel Feldheim of the blog, Not For Fun Only

December 2013: Handel’s Messiah

“Even if you cringe at It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker, and approach the shopping malls with earplugs firmly inserted to prevent the penetration of the omnipresent ‘ba-rump-a-bump-bum,’ one exception you want to make is Handel’s Messiah, especially if performed by Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.” – Cy Ashley Webb writing at Stark Insider

December 2013: Solomon in London

“The problem with the classical music scene, especially around the holidays, is perfectly obvious: not enough sex. Friday night’s scintillating program by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was a welcome step toward rectifying that situation. The concert at the SFJazz Center was designed as a glimpse of music from 18th century London – conspicuously avoiding the work of Handel, the German-born immigrant who towered above his contemporaries like a sequoia among bonsai. That seemed only fair, and it provided a rare chance to enjoy the music of such little-known figures as William Croft and John Stanley.” – Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle

“Call it an 18th century musical bodice-ripper. By today’s standards, it’s pretty tame, but… Boyce’s music is gorgeous – rich with character, filled with recitatives, luxuriant arias and duets for the besotted couple. ‘Solomon’ is a showcase for its two vocal soloists, and McGegan had chosen excellent singers. Soprano Yulia Van Doren’s shapely, fresh-toned instrument was especially well-suited to the female role, and she sang with vibrant expressiveness, negotiating florid arias such as ‘Beneath his ample shade I lay’ with ease and voluptuous charm. Tenor Thomas Cooley employed his firm, agile voice to excellent effect throughout; his great aria, ‘Softly arise, O southern breeze,’ was a highlight, with principal bassoonist Danny Bond supplying graceful accompaniment.” – Georgia Rowe in the Mercury News

“Accompanied by a beautifully blending continuo of organ, cello, and double bass, the singers of the Philharmonia Chorale gave a crisply enunciated, stirringly inspirational rendering of Croft’s setting of seven “funeral sentences” from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Croft created what could be described as a ‘harmonized recitativo that sounds uniquely English, with melodic lines and brief polyphonic outbursts whose only function is to celebrate and emphasize the messages contained in the text, following the flow of the sentences and the rhythm of the words very naturally… It was wonderfully sung, from the opening ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ to the closing, protracted ‘Amen.'”
– Niels Swinkels writing for San Francisco Classical Voice

November 2013: Music from Imperial Saint Petersburg

“The meat of the evening was dedicated to music by Dmitri Bortniansky, whose stage works should probably be more widely known. The excerpts from two operas – the Italian tragedy “Alcide” and the French romance “Le fils rival” – sounded entirely alluring, and soprano Anna Dennis delivered arias from both with particular flair.”
– Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle

“If the evening had one star, it was cellist Tanya Tomkins, who played the Concerto in D Minor by Johann Heinrich Facius. She deftly handled the technical fireworks of the outer movements, seeming to push her instrument near its limit… She displayed her artistry most prominently during a flawless rendition of the Romance, the concerto’s second movement, squeezing every drop of expression out of its juicy lines.”
– Jamie Apgar writing for San Francisco Classical Voice

October 2013: Pergolesi in Naples

“The Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s death at age 26 from tuberculosis remains one of the great tragedies suffered by the world of classical music – and, yes, this was in 1736, but it still stings. The depth of the loss was brought home all over again Wednesday night, when Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra opened their season with a ravishingly beautiful concert headlined by Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.”
– Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle

“In his opening remarks, McGegan suggested that Philharmonia would be presenting ‘early jazz,’ thus honoring Duke Ellington’s famous conviction that ‘It’s all music.’ Still, things were different in the eighteenth century; and McGegan assembled a delightful variety of Italianate (primarily Neapolitan) selections to celebrate those differences.”
– Stephen Smoliar at Examiner.com

“Daniels is recognized for stage presence, but he may have met his match in Carolyn Sampson. Both Sampson and Daniels are fun singers. A deliciously punky Cleopatra, Sampson was clearly in her element, with a confidence and panache that could wow any Marc Antony.”
– Cy Ashley Webb at Stark Insider

“Sampson was delightful in ‘Da tempeste,’ and it would be great to hear her sing the entire role of Cleopatra. Her voice has a sultry warmth but sparkling high notes.”
– Charlise Tiee at Opera Tattler

“There is no need for restraint when discussing those musical forces. While baroque aficionados hardly need another slew of superlatives to convince them that Philharmonia is about as good as it gets, and that McGegan is so in love with his artists and repertoire that watching him is a show all in itself, they do need to hear Sampson in person at one of her two remaining Bay Area debut performances in Berkeley.”
– Jason Victor Serinus writing at San Francisco Classical Voice

“Daniels and Sampson volleyed back and forth Haendel arias, their bread-and-butter on the opera stage: two love duets that meshed their voices into an ethereal purity.”
– Cedric Westphal for SFist

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7 from Philharmonia Baroque Productions

“It has long struck me that Beethoven’s Fourth and Seventh Symphonies make an ideal coupling. Though they cross the traditional boundary between odd- and even-numbered symphonies, their structures are strikingly similar… Those similarities are brilliantly brought out by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco, in performances that nicely take note of period practice using original instruments without labouring the point. Recorded live in Berkeley, California, the performances consistently convey the exuberance and joyfulness of Beethoven in both these symphonies.”
– Edward Greenfield writing in Gramophone

“McGegan deserves a lot of credit for the extra-fine detail in these excellent, edge-of-my-seat performances. Above all, it’s his sense of pacing — of knowing exactly when to speed up, when to pull back, when to let the notes tumble into each other and when to keep us waiting for more — that makes this album far more magnetic than the average performance by a modern symphony orchestra.”
– John Terauds writing in Musical Toronto

“Maestro Nicholas McGegan and the PBO provide the Fourth such a vigorous and spirited presentation that it sounds better than ever.”
– John J. Puccio of Classical Candor

“The introduction to McGegan’s first movement [of the Seventh Symphony] is fleet-footed, with beautiful wind playing. The main section features wonderful waves of sound that ebb and flow, while the coda offers splendidly braying horns. McGegan’s slow movement is measured, with a careful delineation of dynamics. Its sensation is that of a haunted, misty reverie. The third movement feels as if the different sections of the orchestra are engaged in a conversation. Its trio sounds like an ecstatic shepherd’s song. The concluding movement is a jolly, mercurial romp. McGegan’s Seventh, congenial as it is, is one you can live with very easily.”
– Dave Saemann writing in Fanfare Magazine

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