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Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale opens its 2019/20 season with “A Cosmic Notion,” featuring a world premiere by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, October 17–20

The first concerts of Nicholas McGegan’s final season as Music Director includes Shaw’s most ambitious work yet for Philharmonia, plus Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine and a suite from Terpsichore

August 28, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO—Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale (PBO) opens its 2019/20 season, Nicholas McGegan’s final season as Music Director, with a profound statement of commitment to expanding the period instrument repertoire: the world premiere of The Listeners by Caroline Shaw, the youngest composer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. The Listeners highlights the low vocal register, with contralto Avery Amereau and bass-baritone Dashon Burton both making their returns to PBO. Shaw’s cosmic reflection pairs naturally with two works by Handel: a suite from Terpsichore and the celebratory cantata Eternal Source of Light Divine, featuring countertenor Reginald Mobley in his second PBO appearance. “A Cosmic Notion” runs from October 17-20 at venues across the Bay Area; see full listing and ticketing information below.

The Listeners continues a fruitful collaboration between Shaw and Philharmonia that began with a set of three songs, premiered between 2016 and 2019 and spearheaded by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Shaw’s largest project for Philharmonia to date, The Listeners takes inspiration from Carl Sagan’s Golden Record; the words of Walt Whitman and Alfred Lord Tennyson; and more generally, with humankind’s fascination with recording ourselves for posterity. The low voices of Amereau and Burton (Shaw’s colleague in the iconoclastic a cappella ensemble Roomful of Teeth), the Philharmonia Chorale under the direction of Bruce Lamott, and curated recorded selections all contribute to an otherworldly soundworld.

“The aim of The Listeners is to investigate the ways we communicate with each other and with the future,” says Shaw. “One obvious launch point is the Golden Record, which was sent into space on metal plaques mounted onto Voyager 1 and 2, and which contained a collection of sounds from Earth, including whale song, Bach, shakuhachi, Senegalese percussion, spoken greetings in 55 languages, and the sound of Morse code. One question asked then was: will anyone ever hear these sounds beyond our planet, and if so, who? What if we ourselves are the ultimate listeners? What does it mean to create music, live or recorded, and why do we continue to do it? Who is listening now? Who will listen tomorrow?”

Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine, too, explores ideas of creation, joy, permanence, impermanence, and the desire to create a physical record of historical occasions. The cantata celebrates Queen Anne’s birthday and the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, marking the end of the War of Spanish Succession. The queen was, by all accounts, entirely uninterested in listening to her own band, and gave no thought to paying the players, but she did at least grant Handel a pension of 200 pounds per year for life, which established his reputation as the official court composer in England.

“This program draws together two audiences,” Lamott explains, “the British court who celebrated Queen Anne, bringer of peace on earth, and we who recently celebrated our exploration of outer space. The means of these celebrations is similar: soloists, choir, and orchestra musically illuminating texts by contemporary and historical authors in a multi-sectional work. Both audiences were hearing or will be hearing these works—by Handel and Caroline Shaw, respectively—for the very first time. Both composers write in the musical language of their time, and both elicit our participation: one in allegiance to the monarch, and the other in wonder at our place in the universe.”

Listing information:

“A Cosmic Notion”

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale
Nicholas McGegan, Music Director
Bruce Lamott, Chorale Director
Arwen Myers, soprano
Avery Amereau, contralto
Reginald Mobley, countertenor
Dashon Burton, bass-baritone

HANDEL Eternal Source of Light Divine
HANDEL Suite from Terpsichore
SHAW The Listeners (world premiere)

Thursday, October 17, 2019 at 8pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Friday, October 18, 2019 at 7:30pm
First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto

Saturday, October 19, 2019 at 8pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Sunday, October 20, 2019 at 4pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Stephanie Li
Marketing Associate