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Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale open 37th season with the U.S. premiere of a provocative co-commission with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Dianne Provenzano
Marketing & Communications Director
(415) 252-1288 x 315


August 23, 2017, San Francisco – Two of the world’s leading period instrument orchestras have joined forces to commission a provocative new passion by Scottish composer Sally Beamish and librettist David Harsent. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale and London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE)–the UK’s premier period instrument orchestra–co-commissioned “The Judas Passion” to be written specifically for period instruments. OAE will perform the world premiere in the U.K. September 24 and 25 with PBO music director Nicholas McGegan at the podium. McGegan then returns to the Bay Area to open PBO’s 2017/18 season with the U.S. premiere of “The Judas Passion” October 4–8 in Palo Alto, San Francisco and Berkeley.

A few years ago, at a kitchen table in Scotland, Nicholas McGegan and composer and friend Sally Beamish (his neighbor) talked about creating a new work for period instruments. Beamish was fascinated by the story of Judas Iscariot and sought to create a work that would present Judas in a new light. PBO music director and conductor Nicholas McGegan has long been interested in commissioning new music written expressly for period instruments. McGegan then invited OAE to participate and the historic co-commission was born.

“One of the extraordinary things about pieces commissioned by PBO is that they come from composers we know personally—Caroline Shaw, Jake Heggie, Sally Beamish.  It’s very advantageous this way, because we’re then able to work closely and personally with the composer to produce the result.  Most of this process is seeing what particular advantages period instruments have over modern instruments, and getting their creative juices flowing,” says McGegan.

Librettist David Harsent was engaged to help present a new angle on the traditional Judas narrative. His provocative libretto will explore new ideas of redemption and forgiveness for this often maligned Biblical figure.

McGegan says, “Back in Bach’s day, Judas is portrayed as ‘the bad guy.’ In the 20th century, we can lift the curtain, peel back the layers, and say that no one is just ‘the bad guy.’ Judas may have had good motives to do bad things. In our day, we don’t accept cardboard characterizations—we explore characters’ multidimensionality.”

Beamish’s music embraces many influences, particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music, in a catalogue boasting over 200 compositions including solo, duo, chamber, orchestra, vocal, choral, ballet and opera works.  Her music has been broadcast and performed extensively around the world with notable soloists including Håkan Hardenberger, John Harle, Branford Marsalis, Tabea Zimmermann, James Crabb, Dame Evelyn Glennie and Colin Currie amongst others.

Her piece “Reed Stanzas,” for the Elias Quartet, received its premiere at the 2011 BBC Proms and won a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. “Flodden,” written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the eponymous battle, was premiered in September 2013 and shortlisted for both a Royal Philharmonic Society and a BASCA British Composer Award. “Spinal Chords,” one of the PRS 20×12 Olympic commissions, with text by “The Times” Journalist Melanie Reid, toured the UK in 2014 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and narrator Juliet Stevenson. Most recently, Beamish completed “The Little Mermaid” for The Northern Ballet with choreographer David Nixon which will receive an 8 month U.K. tour, premiering in September 2017.

Nicholas McGegan will conduct the world premiere performances of “The Judas Passion” with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on Sunday, September 24 at Saffron Hall in Essex and on Monday, September 25 at St. John’s Smith Square in London. These performances are accompanied by “All Words of Forgiveness,” a literary project exploring the role of forgiveness in contemporary society.

McGegan then returns to lead Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in the U.S premiere of “The Judas Passion” with the same star-studded UK cast; tenor Brenden Gunnell as Judas, bass-baritone Roderick Williams as Jesus, and soprano Mary Bevan as Mary Magdelene. The program also includes Telemann’s “Tafelmusik.” Performances take place throughout the Bay Area October 4–8, 2017.

Tickets range from $28 to $120. For more information about this and other Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale concerts, visit For tickets, visit or call 415-392-4400.

Classical KDFC is the radio home of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale. KDFC broadcasts an unreleased live Philharmonia concert recording the second Sunday of every month from 8-9 PM.



Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale
Brenden Gunnell, tenor
Roderick Williams, bass-baritone
Mary Bevan, soprano

PHOTOGRAPHY: (Click to download)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Brenden Gunnell

Roderick Williams

Mary Bevan

WHAT: Concert Performance
The Judas Passion

 TELEMANN Tafelmusik, Suite No. 1 in E minor
BEAMISH The Judas Passion

PRICE: Range from $28 to $120.

TICKETS: Available at City Box Office 415-392-4400 or


Wednesday October 4 @ 7:30 PM
Bing Concert Hall, Palo Alto

Friday October 6 @ 8 PM
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Saturday October 7 @ 8 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Sunday October 8 @ 4 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Short Description:

Nicholas McGegan leads Philharmonia Baroque Orcehstra and Chorale in the U.S. Premiere “The Judas Passion” with a cast of international stars. Written for period instruments and voices, composer Sally Beamish and librettist David Harsent explore Judas in a more sympathetic light—evoking questions of failing humanity, forgiveness and redemption. This provocative new Passion is accompanied by Telemann’s “Tafelmusik.”