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Tribute to Music Director Laureate Nicholas McGegan

Debut conducting PBO (Handel’s Acis & Galatea); subsequently hired as Music Director

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sings title role in Handel’s Susanna, her debut with Nic and PBO, recording of which receives Gramophone Award and GRAMMY nomination

First ever performance of Beethoven (Symphony No. 1)

MARCH 1991
Debut performance at Lincoln Center (all Mozart)

First of several collaborations with Mark Morris Dance Group (Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato)

First performance of the newly-formed Philharmonia Chorale (Bach’s Christmas Oratorio)

MAY 1999
First of four PBO residencies to perform fully-staged Handel opera in Germany at the Göttingen Handel Festival, where Nic was Artistic Director from 1991 to 2011

PBO named “Ensemble of the Year” by Musical America

Debut for BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall (Handel/Rameau)

APRIL 2006
Debut at Davis Symphony Hall (Beethoven Symphony No. 9); city of San Francisco proclaims April 21, 2006 “Nicholas McGegan Day”

First commissioned work, Jake Heggie’s To Hell and Back, with Isabel Bayrakdarian and Patti LuPone. Subsequently performed for PBO’s Ravinia Festival debut

First ever performance of Brahms (violin concerto, Serenade No. 1)

JUNE 2010
Nic is named Officer of the British Empire (OBE) “for services to music overseas”

Launch of PBO’s own record label, Philharmonia Baroque Productions; GRAMMY nomination for the second release (Haydn Symphonies 88, 101, 104)

APRIL 2014
World premiere of Mark Morris’ production of Handel’s Acis & Galatea

MAY 2016
First performance of commission by Caroline Shaw (Red, Red Rose), sung by Anne Sofie von Otter; performances in Montreal and Quebec City mark PBO’s Canadian debut

APRIL 2017
Modern-day premiere of the original version of Rameau’s Le Temple de la Gloire, PBO’s first ever fully-staged production

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In 1990, my St. Louis friend Dan Brodsky (a singer, and now funeral home director!) suggested that I contact Nic to interest him in my wines. Conquering my innate English diffidence, I did so, and was received with a friendly openness that I soon came to recognise as Nic’s hallmark. A discovery that Nic and my brother had been exact contemporaries at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, cemented the deal. In the succeeding 29 years, Nic and David [Bowles] have become the best of friends, and opened up to me the infinitely rewarding world of PBO, many of whose members have in turn become close to me, and without which I can hardly imagine my life! Thank you, Nic. You will be missed in ways that cannot be imagined.

—Hiram Simon, Patron and PBO’s Official Wine Sponsor

“After reading about Nic in The New Yorker before he came to the Bay Area, I was thrilled to have him join us for the first time. The astonishment of his lively conducting—historically informed without a trace of pendantry—was instantly a clear demonstration of the mainstream nature of Philharmonia’s future. From the excitement of our first collaboration with Mark Morris and Merola Opera’s production of a Handel opera, to the fun of our first tours, to the many vocal and instrumental stars of today who were introduced to the Bay Area by PBO, Nic’s leadership in bringing us to national and international acclaim was truly an honor to witness through the years.”

—The Hon. Marie Bertillion Collins, current and founding PBO Board Member

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“First off, we must say that singing with you is fun, in the way making music always should be. Demanding, yes, but every rehearsal, warm-up, or performance is an event which exudes your personality and integrity. From our choral risers, we have a unique view. Watching your facial expressions and body language is like reading the libretto of the work we’re performing, a libretto peppered with real-time commentary on the current performance. Your energy is the match that lights the fire to generate our fervour. With great big beaming smiles or narrow-eyed sideways glances, you let us know if we’re surpassing expectations, or not quite up to standards. Expansive gestures ramp up everyone’s energy. Careful, small gestures, often completely hidden from the audience, pull sloppy tempi together, or get out of the way of musicians who have everything under control. And once in a blue moon, we get signals that are somewhat open to interpretation. Remember the performance of Thomas Arne’s Alfred, when the Chorale was, unbeknownst to you, given little Union Jack flags to wave once we’d entered to sing Rule, Britannia? You were obviously not pleased, probably because we didn’t stop marching once onstage. And then your arm movements to get us to stop marching were interpreted in several ways. Some put the flags down, some waved them… some continued to march, some stopped. All in all, it was a prime lesson to not surprise the conductor at a performance!

We also treasure the off-stage time we have with you, especially the rehearsals which are just for you and the Chorale. Those rehearsals are not just about getting at the notes, rhythms, tempi, and style, but a chance to hear your anecdotes about the composer and librettist, stories about the work at hand, and your own personal connection to the piece. To get the English (not American) diction right. To learn that seemingly awkward text underlay in a Handel oratorio is not a reflection of a non-native speaker’s struggle with the English language, but rather a clue as to how English was pronounced in the 18th century. To have time for a little one-on-one conversation, whether the topic concerns the business at hand or merely exchanging warm greetings, we always feel appreciated. And whenever there’s a post-concert social event we love to see you right in the middle of the festivities, regaling us with anecdotes, stories and jokes—some repeatable and some not! It’s like we’re family and you are, as you should be, seated at the head of the table.

We are all looking forward to our last sets of performances with you and wish for you all the best in the years ahead.”

—Tom Hart, Katherine McKee, and Mark Mueller
Founding Members of the Philharmonia Chorale

“When John Butt asked me in 1997 if I would like to take over the reins of his newly formed Philharmonia Chorale, I knew it would be a wonderful ride. I had already played continuo harpsichord for you on Handel’s Giustino (1989) as well as Will Parker’s poignant CD of Bach solo cantatas, and knew I liked your style, both personally and musically. You have always made me feel like a collaborator, with unflagging expressions of encouragement and appreciation. I think that we could have finished the transcontinental railroad without a map; our musical instincts have so much in alignment that even without your score at hand, I’ve “channeled” your decisions more often than not.

I’m especially appreciative of your confidence in appointing me Scholar-in-Residence. Not only does the title have a ring of British academe about it, but my responsibilities fulfil a lifetime goal of making music while enhancing the listening experience of our audience.

I join my colleagues in the Chorale in thanking you for making both our performances and rehearsals such joyous experiences. You have a unique gift for bringing together our best efforts by being an inspiring moderator of a host of knowledgeable performers with good ideas. Your vision of having a professional chorus is achieved, and its nonstop success is a tribute to the spirit of collaboration you have offered us all along the way.”

—Bruce Lamott, Philharmonia Chorale Director and Scholar-in-Residence

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“My husband Hayne and I had our first date at a PBO concert in 1996. Four years and many performances later, we were engaged minutes before another PBO concert (sorry Nic, I have no memory of that program!)  I became better acquainted with Nic after joining the Board in 2005 and soon learned that we both liked to cook, enjoy scotch and entertain. He and David have been generous friends ever since. Besides being a superb musician and conductor, Nic is a true bon vivant. He can spin a clever toast out of thin air, write and recite wicked limericks (too wicked to share here), and make an unctuous sticky toffee pudding. We’ve enjoyed his entertaining and educative remarks from the podium, and more memorable performances than we can count. Thank you Nic for enriching our lives in so many ways.”

—Kit Leland, Former PBO Board Member and longtime Patron

“”It is not possible for us to off er adequate tribute to you in this small space for your 35 years with us. You have inspired us all through your love of music, your brilliant and intuitive interpretive approach, your meaningful, practical musicology, and your sheer sense of fun. You have encouraged us all, by your example, to be spirited and joyful performers. Your humour and energy in rehearsal have served the preparation process memorably and oh-so-pleasantly. Our success in the world is very much due to all of these things. We are filled with gratitude, sorrow at your departure as our Music Director, anticipation of our future opportunities to work with you again, and all well-wishes for your many projects and performances.”

—The Musicians of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

“What a complete and utter joy it has been to have you at the helm of Philharmonia for this 35- year prosperous voyage. Many of us describe an almost magnetic captivation that drew us into the PBO family, brought on by your historically informed approach
to performing baroque music. We all became “switched on” to the world of period instruments and legendary singers like Susan Graham, Drew Minter, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson thanks to you. Once you lured us in, we really had no idea how much fun it would be—and are so lucky to have been able to enjoy the fruits of our labor every night you have taken the podium.

While local audiences have been able to experience your local subscription concerts, so many fond memories have also been made on many concert tours with board members and staff. You were instrumental in getting 2-week residencies for PBO at the International Handel Festival in Göttingen, Germany every other summer for 8 years, and those who joined you on these incredible journeys developed a deep fondness for Spargel, Maibock, and Herrentorte during our time there performing the Handel operas Arianna in Creta, Alcina, Partenope, and Atalanta, as well as the modern-day premiere with Dominique Labelle of Handel’s Gloria. And we’re able to savor memories of our projects with Mark Morris Dance Group—Platée, Acis & Galatea, and especially L’Allegro—and the impish grin you gave the audience at the beginning and end of every single performance.

We remember how proud you were to bring PBO to the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall in London and to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Closer to home, we also remember how exhilarating it was to bring PBO to brand new concert halls—Zankel Hall at Carnegie in NYC, Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Green Music Center in Sonoma, and our “hometown” Bing Concert Hall at Stanford—where we had the opportunity to hear the Orchestra and Chorale soar.

You have been a stalwart leader to an exceptional group of musicians, Nic, and we on the staff and board of PBO can never thank you enough for your joyful conducting, your wicked wit, and your brilliant knowledge of all things Handelian. Bravo, dear Maestro.”

—Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale Board of Directors and Staff

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McGegan leaves an indelible stamp on the Bay Area music scene. In performances, recordings and special events, he took Bay Area audiences on a vibrant exploration of the Baroque era, introducing Handel operas and oratorios to audiences whose only previous exposure to the composer consisted of the “Hallelujah” chorus from the “Messiah.” When McGegan was conducting, old notions about early music being stuffy or boring flew out the window.

This season alone, he conducted Handel’s dramatic “Judas Maccabaeus,” with tenor Nicholas Phan in the title role, followed by the composer’s “Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo” — the latter in a breathtaking January production staged by Christopher Alden and starring soprano Lauren Snouffer, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and bass-baritone Davóne Tines. Anyone who witnessed a performance of “Aci” at ODC Theater will never think of Handel the same way again.

Although he’s undoubtedly one of the world’s great Handel conductors — his international appearances have included stops at Carnegie Hall, the London Proms, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the International Handel Festival in Gottingen — McGegan also took Bay Area music lovers on a wide survey of Baroque, classical and Romantic works.

Audiences will remember his tenure as one of exploration, pushing the notion of an early music orchestra well into the 21st century. He collaborated with choreographer Mark Morris on full-scale productions such as Rameau’s “Platee,” and conducted premieres by contemporary composers Jake Heggie, Sally Beamish and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw; this season’s world premiere of Shaw’s oratorio, “The Listeners,” recorded for future release, was simply phenomenal.”

Georgia Rowe, Mercury News

Under McGegan’s leadership, PBO became one of the most-recorded international period-music ensembles, tallying a rich discography of some 40 recordings. McGegan’s own recorded output over the past five decades numbers more than 100 releases, over half of which are of Handel (almost 20 of the operas and 12 oratorios). Along with this legacy, his tours with the PBO helped establish the ensemble’s international status as a leader and tastemaker for North America’s early-music scene.

McGegan is especially proud of where extending the boundaries eventually led. In terms of the canon, PBO pushed this trend to early Brahms. But it also enthusiastically embarked on a pattern of commissioning pieces for period instruments, starting with Jake Heggie’s To Hell and Back (2006), a retelling of the Persephone myth for soprano, Broadway soprano, and period-instrument orchestra. PBO and McGegan have since commissioned works from Sally BeamishMason BatesMatthew Aucoin, and Caroline Shaw. Premiered at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season, Shaw’s “shimmery and often heart-tugging oratorio” (Kosman) The Listeners sets to music ideas suggested by Carl Sagan’s Golden Record for NASA.

“I hate to have people coming to our concerts because they assume it will be ‘the safe option’ and they know they’re not going to be scared and challenged,” said McGegan. “I think music should be challenging. All the music we play was new once. It’s so great to have the composer actually with you to explain, ‘Well, no, that wasn’t quite the effect we wanted, let’s try this’ — as opposed to getting a fancy collected edition off the library shelves and just playing it.”

Thomas May, Early Music America