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Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale releases Joseph and his Brethren, its first recording of a Handel oratorio in 25 years and only the second recording of this work

Led by Handel specialist Nicholas McGegan and featuring a cast of early music powerhouses, including tenor Nicholas Phan as Simeon/Judah and soprano Sherezade Panthaki as Asenath

April 5, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO—Handel’s late-career oratorio Joseph and his Brethren, though popular during Handel’s day, eventually became one of the composer’s most neglected large-scale works.  As such, Joseph had only been recorded once before Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale decided to take it on for its latest recording project, the 11th on the Philharmonia Baroque Productions label. With a cast of early music specialists led by noted Handelian Nicholas McGegan, PBO makes a strong case for Joseph to regain its place among Handel’s most often-performed oratorios such as Samson, Judas Maccabaeus, and Israel in Egypt.

The formidable cast includes the award-winning Philharmonia Chorale led by Bruce Lamott; mezzo-soprano Diana Moore as Joseph; tenor and GRAMMY nominee Nicholas Phan as Simeon and Judah, two of Joseph’s brothers; soprano Sherezade Panthaki as Asenath, daughter of the high priest; and baritone Philip Cutlip as Pharaoh and Reuben, Joseph’s eldest brother. Phan, who will sing the title role in Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus during PBO’s 2019/20 season, gives dramatic depth to the character of Simeon, who undergoes remarkable development, from fierce and tortured to pious and sympathetic, worthy of Joseph’s tears. The character of Asenath, originally portrayed by French soprano Élisabeth Duparc, for whom the title role in Semele was created, has several dazzling arias, particularly “Prophetic raptures swell my breast” in Part III. They are executed with show-stopping gusto by Panthaki.

After years of popularity during Handel’s lifetime, Joseph and his Brethren faded into obscurity, scornfully dismissed by some 20th-century critics as having an overly complex plot with too many storylines, and a sentimental libretto by James Miller. But while the oratorio may not be as immediately accessible as some of Handel’s more popular works, Joseph features some of Handel’s most inventive musical and dramatic techniques, and the story’s sentimentality has deeper resonance in an era where displaced immigrants and family separations have become realities at home and across the globe. As with its other nearly 50 recordings, PBO continues to bring gems of the past vividly to life for modern audiences.

About Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale

Under the musical direction of Nicholas McGegan for the past 33 years, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) is recognized as America’s leading historically informed ensemble. Using authentic instruments and stylistic conventions of the Baroque to early-Romantic periods, the orchestra engages audiences through its signature Bay Area series, national tours, recordings, commissions, and education projects of the highest standard. Founded in the San Francisco Bay Area 37 years ago, the ensemble is the largest of its kind in the United States and is known for its versatility in programming and joyful performances.

PBO’s musicians are among the best in the country and serve on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Harvard, and Stanford, among others. The Orchestra performs an annual subscription season in four venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the orchestra’s popular alternative concert series for younger and new audiences—PBO SESSIONS which has regularly sold out since its inception in 2014. In April 2017, PBO performed the modern-day premiere of Rameau’s “Le Temple de la Gloire.” The fully-staged opera included an international cast of singers and dancers and celebrated sold-out audiences and critical acclaim from around the world.

Each season welcomes eminent guest artists such as mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Anne Sofie von Otter, countertenor Andreas Scholl, violoncellist Steven Isserlis, fortepianist Emanuel Ax, and maestros Jordi Savall and Richard Egarr. The Orchestra enjoys numerous collaborations, including an ongoing partnership with the Mark Morris Dance Group and tours regularly to venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Tanglewood, and Weill Hall at the Green Music Center. In July 2017, PBO co-produced the critically-acclaimed modern adaptation of “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo” in partnership with Anthony Roth Costanzo and National Sawdust in Brooklyn.

Among the most recorded orchestras in the world, PBO boasts a discography of more than 40 recordings and launched its own label in 2011, on which it has released ten recordings, including a coveted archival performance of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in Berlioz’s “Les Nuits D’été,” and a Grammy-nominated recording of Haydn symphonies. The orchestra released a recording of its modern North American premiere of Alessandro “Scarlatti’s La Gloria di Primavera,” which coincided with a tour in May 2016 and released the world premiere recording of the original version of Rameau’s “Le Temple de la Gloire” with the unedited libretto by Voltaire in July 2018.

In 2015, Philharmonia launched its Jews & Music Initiative—a permanent effort to explore and understand the relationship between Jews and music from the 17th to the 21st centuries. The initiative brings Jewish historical context to classical music and provides opportunities for significant collaboration with SFJCC, the Jewish Contemporary Museum, Oshman JCC, and The Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley, among others. In 2016, Harvard and Yale universities invited PBO to present “Jews of the 17th Century Italian Jewish Ghetto” featuring works by Salomone Rossi and Monteverdi. The program was reprised at the University of Chicago in April 2018 and was deemed “shimmering….stylish, precise and expressive” by the Chicago Times.

PBO launched its New Music for Old Instruments initiative in 2016 as an effort to commission and perform new works written expressly for period instruments. Recent commissions include a co-commission with London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with composer Sally Beamish, two works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, the first for mezzo-soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter that enjoyed its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in April 2016 followed by the second piece in the song cycle for soprano Dominique Labelle in 2017. A third piece will be premiered at Lincoln Center in 2019. Additionally, PBO commissioned “To Hell and Back” by Guggenheim Fellow Jake Heggie. Future seasons will bring new commissions by Caroline Shaw, Matthew Aucoin, and Mason Bates.

To nurture the next generation of historically informed performance, Philharmonia and The Juilliard School’s Historical Performance program partner to bring the star students

of Juilliard415, the school’s acclaimed period instrument ensemble, to practice and perform alongside PBO’s seasoned professionals. Annual residencies include masterclasses, coaching, and a culminating side-by-side showcase of PBO mentors and J415 students.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was founded by harpsichordist and early music pioneer Laurette Goldberg. Nicholas McGegan will become Music Director Laureate effective with the 2020/21 season.


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