CONCERT REVIEWS


The Aspen Times: “Review: Powerful opening week to start Aspen Music Festival”

“The Vivaldi was in McGegan’s wheelhouse…he laid the foundation for brilliant playing from Hungarian trumpet virtuoso Tamás Pálfalvi and the Atlanta Symphony’s principal trumpet Stuart Stephenson.” Read the full review at The Aspen Times.

Calgary Herald: “Review: Bach given uplifting treatment at Knox United Church”

“McGegan always projected good ideas from the podium, and with strong instrumental and vocal soloists, there was a sense of spark that could easily be sensed. No one left the hall disappointed.” Read more at Calgary Herald.


LA Times: “Handel’s ‘Saul,’ not the ‘Messiah,’ with Nicholas McGegan in his element”

“Four years after “Saul,” Handel and the same librettist, Charles Jennens, would go on to produce that first true, most famous and still most lasting of all oratorios, meant for Easter (even if appropriated by Christmas). Instead Nicholas McGegan, the longtime music director of the Berkeley-based period instrument ensemble and as fine a “Messiah” master as there is, hatched a different and in many ways delightful, if eccentric, Easter egg…McGegan is the Philharmonia Baroque, and it will be hard to imagine the orchestra without him when he steps down after next season.” Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

McGegan & PBO in “top form” for Handel’s ‘Saul’

 “Saturday’s performance, which repeats Friday in San Francisco and Saturday in Palo Alto to close Philharmonia’s 38th season, found McGegan and ensemble in top form, powering through the two hour, 50-minute score with brisk, unflagging energy.” Read more at San Francisco Examiner.


SF Datedbook: “McGegan’s leadership brought out the score’s color and vibrancy”

“McGegan and the orchestra, meanwhile, demonstrated yet again why the Handel oratorios have been such a triumphant staple of their work together over the past 30 years and more. “Saul” is full of instrumental extravagances, from the rare presence of trumpets and trombones to a flashy solo for a sort of keyboard-driven glockenspiel.

Again and again, the ensemble under McGegan’s leadership brought out the score’s color and vibrancy. Not even the peevish Saul himself could have begrudged the performers their success.” Read more at SF Datebook.

SF Chronicle: Philharmonia Baroque Serves Up More of the Same: Excellence

“It was musical business as usual in the all-Handel first half of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s March 7–10 concerts — not that there was anything routine about the Overture to Partenope and the five vocal selections that followed. With the regally entrancing mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and the ingratiating countertenor Daniel Moody in the house, and conductor Nicholas McGegan marshaling his fine period-instrument band, the audience at the Herbst Theatre cozied up to the kind of programming and performances they’ve come to expect. Read more at sfcv.org.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at the Granada

“Under McGegan’s baton, the orchestra achieved full parity with the soloist, a challenge given baroque period performance priorities…The Schubert symphony sparkled with post-Beethovenian ingenuity of the first rank.” Read more at The Santa Barbara Independent .

Mercury News: McGegan among the best of 2018

“Mozart Magnified,” Oct. 3, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra: Performing in Stanford’s Bing Hall with an outstanding team of vocal soloists – soprano Camille Ortiz, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor James Reese and bass-baritone Dashon Burton, music director Nicholas McGegan led the Bay Area’s premier early music ensemble in Mozart, works including the composer’s grand “Coronation Mass” and the happy-making ‘Exultate jubilate.” Read more at mercurynews.com.

McGegan “brought a spark” to Cleveland Orchestra

“Nicholas McGegan brought a spark to the podium that was most welcome…The orchestra, too, was a spirited, unified presence, and McGegan’s guidance from the harpsichord was light and flexible. In short, it was a lithe, poetic, and invigorating account, a musical year to remember.” Read more at The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

St. Louis Post Dispatch: McGegan and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and Orchestra offer delightful evening of oratorio

“On Saturday night at Powell Symphony Hall, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and Orchestra gave a superb performance of “The Creation,” with a trio of fine soloists, a well-trained chorus, and the orchestra nailing its part, all under the inspired direction of Nicholas McGegan.” Read more at stltoday.com.

Date Book: Philharmonia Chorale takes the spotlight in an all-Mozart season opener

“McGegan led his forces with a combination of fleet phrasing — his longtime interpretive stock-in-trade — and a certain respectful calm that seemed entirely appropriate to the repertoire.” Read more at datebook.sfchronicle.com.

McGegan and Susan Graham close out Caramoor Summer 2018

“Caramoor ended its summer festival with a special treat for opera lovers, a concert with Susan Graham, accompanied by the always-fabulous Orchestra of St. Luke’s, led by Nicholas McGegan. Once again, the weather on the leafy estate of Caramoor, with its sumptuous gardens and grounds, was a perfect match to the delightful and intriguing program.” Read more at OperaWire.com.

McGegan and PBO bring “Atalanta” to Caramoor

“Mr. McGegan is always welcome in New York, his personality and conducting skills double-treats….Mr. McGegan has performed this Handel pastorale several times, even gave it the only recording. He loves it, and he made the audience love it…with equal passion.” Read more at Concertonet.com.

McGegan’s “breathtaking command”

“It was the Rossini that received the evening’s finest performance. With a reduced-in-size ensemble onstage, McGegan elicited playing that was characterized by transparent textures, fleet tempi, bracing rhythms and expertly modulated dynamics to capture the opera’s glittering rendering of the Cinderella fairytale. His command over the legendary “Rossini crescendo” was breathtaking.” Read more at Chestnut Hill Local.

McGegan, PBO close season with “fervor and tenderness”

“Beethoven and Luigi Cherubini were near-contemporaries, operating in parallel in the major musical capitals of Vienna and Paris, respectively. Both were giants in their day, and yet modern concertgoers only ever hear music by one of them in the regular course of events…The season-ending program by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, which had its first airing in a splendid concert at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall on Wednesday, April 25, drives home the point with forceful elegance.” Read more at San Francisco Chronicle.


McGegan, PBO, Panthaki “precise and expressive” in Chicago

“In each the singers and players were as stylish, precise and expressive as one would expect, given that McGegan is a lively conductor who in 32 years has made the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale one of the finest such groups in the United States.” Read more at The Chicago Tribune.

McGegan and PBO offer “musical discoveries and delights”

“Haydn was the headliner for their February 7–11 “Harmonic Convergence” series of concerts, and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra made sure he lived up to the billing. In giving their all to two substantial works — the Cello Concerto No. 2, with an intense Steven Isserlis as soloist, and the (mostly) absorbing Symphony No.43 (“Mercury”) — Music Director Nicholas McGegan and his nimble band proved yet again why this prolific composer offers a seemingly inexhaustible supply of musical discoveries and delights.” Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.


McGegan leads PBO in a “rhythmically pulsating score”

“…conductor Nicholas McGegan led his period-instrument orchestra in a rhythmically pulsating score.” Read more at Berkeley Daily Planet.


McGegan brings Vivaldi to St. Louis Symphony

“McGegan is always fun to watch as he dances about the podium, and his expressiveness set the tone for the entire concert.” Read more at St. Louis Post Dispatch.

McGegan and Cleveland deliver “perfect 18th century package”

“His expertise in the early Classical period radiated through a performance marked by sharp dynamic contrast, tapered phrasing, and keen attention to detail. To the extent that it’s possible to enliven and spruce up Mozart’s music, McGegan did so. The Finale was a pure Classical thrill ride. Repeatedly, in a movement marked Presto, McGegan rallied an orchestra in tip-top form to new heights of speed and gusto, drawing listeners closer to the action with every push.” Read more at Cleveland.com.

McGegan/OAE premiere Sally Beamish’s “Judas Passion”

“Beamish’s music called some extraordinary sonorities from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by Nicholas McGegan, their forces distilled to eleven strings; pairs of flutes, horns and trumpets; harpsichord, lute and percussion.” Read more at bachtrack.com.

McGegan shapes OAE’s “finally detailed playing” in Beamish premiere

“It’s all perhaps closer to opera than to oratorio, and this premiere, with the OAE’s finely detailed playing shaped by Nicholas McGegan, was economically and unfussily staged by Peter Thomson.” Read more at The Guardian.

“Hollywood Bowl veteran McGegan” returns for all-Vivaldi program

It’s as reliable as a sunrise: a Nicholas McGegan appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in August. The conductor was at his perennial Bowl gig again Thursday night, and as usual McGegan’s agenda was locked into the 18th century — all Vivaldi this time. Read more at latimes.com.

Opera Magazine: Le Temple “proved an utter delight”

“The two most notable operatic events of the spring in San Francisco had nothing to do with the San Francisco Opera and both represented a major collaboration between music and dance. In Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall (April 28), Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and Cal Performances collaborated on the first modern production of the original 1745 version of Rameau’s opera-ballet Le Temple de ia Gloire, and it proved an utter delight.” Read more in the August 2017 issue of Opera.

McGegan and RNS play “with irresistible spirit” at Proms in Hull

“Under Nicholas McGegan, the Royal Northern Sinfonia played with irresistible spirit, and a boisterous crowd cheered everything. Nothing entertained more than the scintillating encore: Iain Farrington’s A Shipshape Shindig, an off-kilter take on The Sailor’s Hornpipe that should go straight into the Last Night of the Proms.” Read more at The Times.

Making history: first BBC Prom held in Yorkshire in nearly 90 years

“History was made this afternoon as an orchestra struck up by the riverside in Hull – the first time a Prom has been held outside the capital in nearly 90 years. The Gateshead-based Royal Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, opened with Telemann’s Water Music Overture followed by Delius’s Summer Night on the River as hundreds looked on.” Read more at The Yorkshire Post.

McGegan “catching the spirit of an era” at Aspen

“McGegan proved adept at catching the spirit of the era even on modern instruments with an all-student orchestra…McGegan and the ensemble were especially sparkly in the two final pieces, a short selection from Handel’s “Water Music” and a colorful dip into a suite from Purcell’s Faerie Queen.” Read more at The Aspen Times.

McGegan “radiates the joy” at Aspen

Conducting without a baton, McGegan communicated what was needed with facial expressions, dancelike body movements and graceful hand gestures. No conductor radiates the joy in music quite like McGegan does…” Read more at aspentimes.com.

McGegan leads Mozart at the Van Cliburn Competition

“One of the happiest developments over the 20 years I’ve covered the Cliburn has been the FWSO’s vast improvement under Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director for the last 16 years. But, given the orchestra’s relatively little experience in 18th-century style, it was a great idea to book a specialist, Nicholas McGegan, to conduct this round. Sure enough, he cultivated stylishly buoyant and smartly nuanced playing, but without shortchanging drama from the same composer as Don Giovanni. One hoped the young pianists were picking up stylistic ideas.” Read more at dallasnews.com.


Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Review: ASO captivates with 18th-century tunes”

“McGegan, who is noted for his expertise in 18th-century music, conducted about two dozen strings in a completely gorgeous, utterly placid recitation of the Mozart composition…Aside from being a masterful conductor, McGegan is a joy to watch.” Read more at The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Financial Times: “The Temple of Glory, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, California — a majestic farce”

“…music director Nicholas McGegan’s life-long Rameauphilia, and the participation of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, sufficed to inspire the rebirth of a major contribution to the lyric stage…But it was the 42-member period orchestra that McGegan has led for 30 years with verve and insight that proved the greatest source of revelations.” Read more at The Financial Times.

Mercury News: “Rare satiric Rameau-Voltaire opera beautifully staged”

“McGegan conducted with his trademark verve and attention to detail, drawing forceful orchestral responses in the triumphant music and gentle, opulent sound in the pastoral scenes.” Read more at mercurynews.com.

SF Chronicle: “Temple’ revives the grandeur of the French Baroque”

“…rendered with nobility and verve by the orchestra under Music Director Nicholas McGegan…This was billed as the modern premiere of a work that has lain dormant for centuries; encountering it on stage at last was like watching a resplendently bedecked giant stirring to life.” Read more at sfchronicle.com.

McGegan brings out “every colourful detail” with Royal Northern Sinfonia

“Handel uses the chorus and orchestra to great descriptive effect in the more dramatic parts of the story – the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea – and here McGegan brought out every colourful detail to great effect.” Read more at bachtrack.com.

McGegan “extracts every ounce of drama…”

“The rare performance of the oratorio was directed by baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan, who extracted every ounce of drama from the score, while maintaining a driving momentum to the narrative.” Read more at The Northern Echo.

Boston Globe: Playful spirit enlivens Handel and Haydn Society concert

“…from the moment that Nicholas McGegan took the podium to conduct the Handel and Haydn Society at Symphony Hall Friday night, it was evident that a more playful approach had come to visit. More than once I was tempted to pull the nearest person into a dance, so infectious was the pulse at times. Heads bobbed, feet tapped, and hands instinctively beat time as this music leapt from the instruments and crackled in the air.” Read more at the Boston Globe.

Mozart and Arriaga with the Handel + Haydn Society

“…McGegan stirred the whole ensemble to a double-forte frenzy, which slowly faded as Don Juan descended and disappeared from view, in as clear a musical depiction of damnation as could be imagined, and extremely effective.” Read more at The Boston Musical Intelligencer.

McGegan delivers “delight, and a vivid musical experience” at Baltimore

“Every detail, every gesture in the concert revealed a seriousness of purpose essential to deliver delight, and a vivid musical experience…It was an uplifting and revitalising concert, reminding us that extraordinary music making has no fixed age, and classical music is as varied as it vital.” Read more at mdtheatreguide.com.

McGegan leads PBO in “Haydn, Mozart and … Gyrowetz”

“McGegan clearly understood the paths that Blumenstock chose to forge, and he made sure that PBO was with her every step of the way with just as much confidence and spontaneous energy…” Read more at The Rehearsal Studio.

McGegan’s “graceful charm” with Pasadena Symphony

“Under his baton, the Pasadena Symphony bounded through these works with all the sureness of movement and graceful charm of an Olympic gymnast.” Read more at crescentavalleyweekly.com.

McGegan a “convincing voice” for the Baroque ‘Messiah”

“The orchestra, not to be outdone, played with particular focus on the transparency of the sound…Even with our modern-day penchant for the huge, dense explosions of sound that Roy Thomson Hall was acoustically built for, McGegan has become a serious and convincing voice for the baroque approach to Messiah…In a sentence, this year’s TSO Messiah was about the collective soloists, orchestra, choir, and one conductor, McGegan, with the vision to put them all together — just so.” Read more at Musical Toronto.

Philharmonia Baroque Renders a Heroic Joshua

Music Director Nicholas McGegan carried it all off splendidly, with rhythmic command and plenty of high-contrast effects.” Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.

McGegan conducts ‘Joshua’ with “consummate flair and unflagging rhythmic verve”

“…under McGegan’s inspired direction, the performance emerged as one of the period instrument ensemble’s finest offerings in recent memory…McGegan conducted with consummate flair and unflagging rhythmic verve, and the orchestra responded with a forceful, fully committed performance.” Read more at The Mercury News.

McGegan presents “a Handel for the rest of us”

“McGegan proved a sprightly, kinetic conductor, bringing out crisp articulations, bouncing rhythms and precise choral articulation (building on Edward Elwyn Jones’s preparation). Without encrustations of tradition to overcome, here was Handel for the rest of us.” Read more at The Boston Musical Intelligencer.

McGegan presents an “enlightening lecture/recital” at Harvard

“McGegan presented an enlightening lecture/recital, bringing this fascinating musical period to life via the Yale Voxtet, a group of eight graduate students at the Institute of Sacred Music, and the excellent Philharmonic Baroque Chamber Players, comprising violinists Katherine Kyme and Noah Strick, cellist Phoebe Carrai, and theorbist David Tayler.” Read more at The Boston Musical Intelligencer.

Rubin Institute Institute prizewinner finds PBO concert “revelatory”

“The 2016 winner of the prize in music criticism is Lucy M. Caplan, 26, unassuming, Harvard undergraduate, magna cum laude, principal violist of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra”…Fellows at the symposium attended four performances and wrote a review of each. Students were then split into three groups, each with two critics who focused discussion on one student’s review. Performances included the International Contemporary Ensemble playing Arthur Kampela’s No. I; the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performing an all-Beethoven program; the San Francisco Symphony playing Mozart, Schumann, and Dvorak; and finally, The San Francisco Opera production of Janacek’s The Makropulos Case.” Read the full article about the prizewinners at San Francisco Classical Voice, and read Ms. Caplan’s review here.

McGegan, PBO and Levin “Expand Beethoven”

“Despite the fire that badly damaged its long-time East Bay home in the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s season-opening concert at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, was a festive, triumphant affair…Combined with nonferrous strings, the tone, full of warmth but without gratuitous voluptuousness, matched the disciplined direction that conductor Nicholas McGegan took.” Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.

Philharmonia Baroque renders Beethoven’s Sixth in warm, evocative splendor

“On a damp and wet Sunday afternoon at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra continued its 36th season, as Nicholas McGegan conducted Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony in F Major and Robert Levin performed the Concerto for Fortepiano No. 3 in C minor…Opening at a brisk tempo, McGegan wove together the movements beautifully and rendered a dramatic and powerful account of the Allegro ma non troppo.” Read more at Mercury News.

Nicholas McGegan brings joy of music to two programs

“Along with superb musicianship and an innate feel for the Baroque and Classical compositions in which he specializes, McGegan also brings to the podium a plenitude of energy, as well as a sense of true joy in the music as he and his instrumentalist colleagues bring it to life….McGegan, whose sense of humor shone forth brightly, offered witty and informative spoken program notes on the musical selections and was a delight to watch as he conducted.” Read more at stltoday.com.

“Spring’s bounty blooms at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall”

“As in their previous Tanglewood appearances, McGegan had his period-instrument orchestra playing with impressive unanimity and spirit.” Read more at berkshireeagle.com.

“Nicholas McGegan brings Handel and heart to the Hollywood Bowl”

“At the Hollywood Bowl, parts of August and early September have been called the summer doldrums by some — and they can be right. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has hit on one perennial plan to keep the blahs away for at least a week: having Nicholas McGegan on the podium to conduct his 18th century specialties…That did the trick on Tuesday night, when McGegan led an all-Handel evening, an accumulation of orchestral greatest hits, high-powered choral workouts and ornate showcase arias for a star diva.” Read more at LATimes.com.

McGegan and Graham bring Handel favorites to The Bowl

“McGegan and the Los Angeles Philharmonic accompanied Graham sensitively…The ebullient McGegan surrounded Graham with several well-known Handel works, taking full advantage of 79 voices of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in the opening work, Zadok the Priest (aka Celebration Anthem No. 1).” Read more at insidesocal.com/classact.

McGegan and Cleveland Orchestra offer “scintillating mix of Classical and modern”

“McGegan kept the tension in dramatic moments pitched high, and there was an almost Romantic forcefulness to his interpretation of this otherwise Classical score…McGegan’s idiosyncratic podium style, without baton and highly expressive, worked well to vivify the well-loved music.” Read more at Cleveland.com.

Music review: Sarasota Music Festival closing weekend

“The wonderful conductor Nicholas McGegan led the Festival Orchestra, which featured this seasons’ enormously talented students, and he opened the evening with Vivaldi’s F Major Concerto — a great choice since it gives both section leaders and sections an opportunity to strut their stuff.” Read more at yourobserver.com.

Another milestone as 2016 Sarasota Music Festival closes

“The Sarasota Music Festival is better than ever and Saturday’s finale concert was one of the finest ever heard here…the evening immediately took on a celebratory atmosphere as led by conductor Nicholas McGegan, who used a choreographic technique uniquely his own to elicit the requisite rhythmic bounce and precision from the Festival Orchestra.” Read more at ticket.heraldtribune.com.

Arts Desk: CBSO, McGegan, Symphony Hall Birmingham

“He opened Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor overture with a radiant sweep of sound, drawing the string tone up from the basses with a batonless wave of the hand, then bouncing up and down like he was mounted on springs as the Allegro hurtled away.” Richard Bratby, The Arts Desk.

Washington Post: McGegan’s “transcendent” performance with Baltimore

“On Thursday at Strathmore, Nicholas McGegan led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a performance that was, like the work, both hybrid and personal, with a sense of the homemade, the intimate, the human, and the transcendent, particularly in the inspired playing of the reduced but ardent orchestra.” Read more at washingtonpost.com.

After 300 years, Scarlatti’s ‘La Gloria’ arrives in So Cal, courtesy of the Philharmonia Baroque

“Meanwhile, McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque supported in glowing hues and lyrical lines, the rhythm driven from the bottom of the orchestra (as in a good jazz band) and the violins gamboling ebulliently.” Read more at ocregister.com.

La gloria di primavera: Scarlatti gem rediscovered

“There are significant variations in terms of rhythm, color and timbre from one formally prescribed structure to the next which were clearly emphasized by McGegan and his ensemble. Several invocations of nature – pastoral images, a tempest, the flowing Danube – were all beautifully rendered.” Read more at bachtrack.com.

Review: Philharmonia Baroque Unearths a 300-Year-Old Rarity

“Occasional music seldom outlives the occasion it commemorates, except when, say, a Handel work is involved, as with the “Music for the Royal Fireworks” or many another toss-off. Alessandro Scarlatti’s grand serenata “La Gloria di Primavera” (“The Glory of Spring”) — which the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by its music director, Nicholas McGegan, presented at Zankel Hall on Friday evening — is a fascinating case study.” Read more at nytimes.com.

McGegan’s “Thrilling Philharmonia Baroque Performance”

“From the first, swaggering entrance of the trombones to the final, gleaming, and richly woven chorus, Music Director Nicholas McGegan led the combined forces of his responsive band, an augmented Philharmonia Chorale, and three soloists on a musical and dramatic spirit quest. Everyone played and sang with utter conviction to the cause.” Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.

McGegan “unveiled an expansive and eloquent masterpiece”

“In a performance of remarkable power and tonal beauty, McGegan and his crew of musicians — including the excellent Philharmonia Chorale and a lineup of first-rate vocal soloists — unveiled an expansive and eloquent masterpiece, one that belongs by rights on the repertoire list of every orchestra in the country.” Read more at sfgate.com.

McGegan’s “engergetic” approach to Mendelssohn at PBO finale

McGegan kept things moving at a healthy clip, shaping every phrase with in-the-moment spontaneity…He could not have delivered a more energetic performance…” Read more at examiner.com.

McGegan’s brings PBO’s season “to a triumphant close”

“McGegan…brought it all together in a flowing, rhythmically exuberant performance…The choruses did heroic work as well, bringing the performance to a gloriously ecstatic, over-the-top finish. “Hymn of Praise” isn’t often revived, and McGegan’s cohesive performance made it sound essential.” Read more at dailydemocrat.com.

McGegan and Graham give an evening to remember at Carnegie Hall

“The superb mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang “Dido’s Lament” on Thursday evening with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, and her performance will surely be remembered by all who heard it. Stunningly, Ms. Graham began that climactic line first at a near-shout, then at a near-whisper, with musical values always in perfect control…But the program also included two Haydn symphonies: No. 75 in D and No. 98 in B flat, both performed stylishly and energetically.” Read more at nytimes.com.

LA Times: Nicholas McGegan and the L.A. Phil offer a performance for the eras in ‘From Bach to Schubert’

“As the program rolled around to Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, the Phil had expanded to full classical-orchestra size, and McGegan could conjure vigorous tempos, bouncy rhythm and plenty of dash with his baton-less, wiggle-waggle conducting style.” Read more at latimes.com.

Examiner: Philharmonia Baroque tours Baroque Europe with delightfully diverse programming

Last night in Herbst Theatre the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by Waverley Fund Music Director Nicholas McGegan, gave the fifth subscription concert in its 35th season. The title of the program was Explore Baroque Europe; and it amounted to a grand tour that took in Venice (Giuseppe Tartini), Versailles (Jean-Philippe Rameau), Dresden (Jan Dismas Zelenka and Johann David Heinichen), and London (Thomas Arne). Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock was featured as soloist in Tartini’s D28 concerto in D major, but the entire program was permeated with a delightfully diverse assortment of solo opportunities. Read more at Examiner.com.

PBO goes for baroque to honor McGegan

“Nicholas McGegan is an inspiration,” gushed patron Steve John…He’s elevated PBO to the global level…For the uninitiated, San Francisco is the home base of what is arguably the world’s best and largest period ensemble in the United States.” Read more at sfgate.com.

SF Chronicle: Graham helps to celebrate McGegan in song

“…for longtime observers and supporters of Philharmonia, the evening was an opportunity to reflect yet again on the qualities that have made McGegan’s leadership so essential, and so exciting…it was also a testament to the lasting influence of McGegan’s leadership, and his ability to fuse a group of first-rate artists into the country’s pre-eminent early music group.” Read more at sfgate.com.

Philharmonia Baroque celebrates 30 years of McGegan with delightful Handel

“Last night in Herbst Theatre, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra presented a special non-subscription concert to celebrate Nicholas McGegan’s 30 years of service as Music Director. The conductor for the occasion was McGegan himself. (Who else could it be?)” Read more at Examiner.com.

McGegan and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: “flying and in terrific form”

“He’s a dynamo, a true animator, an energiser and an ignition point from which music can take off and take wing. I don’t think McGegan could be dull if you paid him…” Read more at The Herald.

Preview: Nicholas McGegan and PBO bring Messiah to Weill Hall

“British-born McGegan will take his period instrument ensemble and accompanying chorale to Weill Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, for an unabridged performance of the “Messiah,” one of the best-known works of the baroque era. “We are doing it complete, so there is no escape,” the wry conductor said in a phone interview from his home in Berkeley. “Weill Hall is my absolute favorite place to play … I know Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, so this one is a very pleasing double-take.” Read more at pressdemocrat.com.

“The Finest ‘Messiah’ I have experienced” – McGegan conducts in New Zealand

“Indeed, with a balance between all sections that was astonishingly even, and a tonal freedom that was hair-raising, this was like a familiar painting freshly cleaned. Of course, Nicholas McGegan is one of the great conductors of the baroque/classical period and his unerring sense of style and a cleverly judged increase in tension as the drama of Handel’s collaboration with Charles Jennens gathers pace, kept the packed house spellbound. …the finest Messiah I have experienced.” John Button, Dominion Post News.

McGegan’s ‘stylistic insight’ in Handel with PBO

“…the music director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is also exploring less familiar Handel with relish and stylistic insight. He programmed the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, prefacing it with excerpts from a Handel oratorio, Cecilia, volgi un sguardo. To open the evening, McGegan resurrected a Te Deum and Jubilate in D, composed by Purcell in 1695, only a century after Cecilia was made patron saint of music.” Read more at ft.com.

McGegan’s “resounding success” with PBO

“If ever a competition were held to demonstrate that classical does not equal stodgy, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Music Director Nicholas McGegan would sail through the challenge with ease.” Read more at SFCV.org.

SF Gate: McGegan’s “vivid, superbly detailed performance”

“McGegan led the orchestra in a vivid, superbly detailed performance…This one-act oratorio amounts to an elaborate assertion that music is totally awesome, and the performance, in Palo Alto’s First United Methodist Church, could not have been more persuasive on that point.” Read more at sfgate.com.

New York Times: McGegan conducts Juilliard415

“The sun rose twice on Monday evening during Juilliard415’s concert at Alice Tully Hall: first in Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 (“Morning,” 1761), then in Telemann’s cantata “Die Tageszeiten” (“The Times of Day,” 1757). Read more at nytimes.com.

McGegan brings “palpable joy” to the St. Louis Symphony

“McGegan, renowned as a Baroque and Classical specialist, turns the members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra into a fine facsimile of a period band, dishing up stylistically impeccable and utterly committed music-making.” Read more from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

McGegan and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra bring “Mendelssohn’s Dream to life”

“The scene was set by a baroque ensemble from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, in a colourful, feisty Brandenburg Concerto no 1 in F Mjor BWV 1046.” Read more from The Advertiser.

McGegan and PBO “Revive the Glory of Spring”

“If Scarlatti’s Gloria offered nothing more than Autumn’s entrancingly sustained paean to a brook’s “silvery foot” freed from the ice (a mellow but muscular-toned countertenor Clint van der Linde) or Spring’s delicately luscious nightingale aria (Moore in a sweet exchange with flutist Stephen Schultz), it would have more than justified music director and conductor Nicholas McGegan’s act of musical resuscitation.” Read more from the San Francisco Classical Voice.

McGegan and PBO celebrate return of Herbst Theater in grand style

“McGegan’s selection was thus entirely appropriate for this particular occasion, and the signs could not be better that this will be a delightfully engaging Philharmonia Baroque season.” Read more at Examiner.

SF Gate: Philharmonia revives a lost Scarlatti gem

“With a cast of four singers embodying the four seasons and one more to weigh in — late but stylishly — as Jove, “The Glory of Spring” is a feast of vocal invention, supplemented by wondrous instrumental writing for a strikingly large orchestra.” Read more at SF Gate.

Review: McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque revive a forgotten Scarlatti serenata

“McGegan, who celebrates his 30th anniversary with the orchestra this year, conducted brilliantly. Leading from the harpsichord, he drew zesty playing in the opening Introduction, a fanfare for trumpets, strings, oboes and bassoons.” Read more at Mercury News.

LA Times Review: McGegan, Bach, and bluegrass at the Bowl

“McGegan tried nothing fancy, relying on his excellent sense of rhythm and sane pacing. But his main accomplishment was in providing just enough security for individual players to bring out the real personality of the score.” Read more at LA Times.

McGegan’s ‘French Connection’ at Hollywood Bowl

“McGegan was his usual enlivening, effervescent, engaging self, spreading good cheer with his wiggle-waggle motions on the podium visible to all on the giant video screens. The Mozart and Haydn symphonies — both of succinct, nearly equal length, neither overly familiar to concert audiences — went by with zesty tempos, robust textures, contrasting shadings and high spirits from the chamber-orchestra-sized version of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. No late-summer doldrums here.” Read more at LA Times.

McGegan conducts the Cleveland Orchestra

What’s more, it did so with one of the best: conductor Nicholas McGegan. Under him, an animated specialist in repertoire of that era, the orchestra evinced all the traits one desires, showing off much as ensembles of old once strove to delight their sponsors. Read more at Cleveland.com.

A Baroque ‘Jam Session’ with Nicholas McGegan

“McGegan is enthusiastic about the music and…equally enthusiastic about discussing it with the audience. His passionate addresses between the pieces at festival shows help put the uninitiated listener at ease and add to the aficionado’s appreciation.” Read more at Aspen Times.

McGegan returns to Music Academy of the West

“These annual visits from the baroque specialist conductor remain highlights of the season, and this evening was no exception.” Read more at Santa Barbara Independent.

McGegan conducts at Aspen Music Festival

“Both soloist and conductor matched a sense of buoyancy. The music unfolded like a silk scarf, ebbing, flowing, fluttering, studded with jewels of iridescent phrases from Nel every time the piano entered.” Read more at Aspen Times.

McGegan’s sound is “superb” with Mark Morris Dance Group

…conducted by Nicholas McGegan, a British-born baroque orchestra and international opera conductor, as well as a expert on Handel…The combined sound of the orchestra and chorus was superb. Read more at Examiner.

McGegan conducts ‘Acis & Galatea’ in New Haven

You knew you were in good hands as soon as the overture began. Conductor Nicholas McGegan kept a lilting, peppy pace. The melodies were clear and catchy. Read more at New Haven Independent.

McGegan leads the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

“Baroque specialist and conductor Nicholas McGegan led the orchestra in an invigorating performance of pieces by Handel, Vivaldi and Haydn. He and the orchestra gave each selection a fresh, inspired performance, filling them with delicious period details and compelling musical energy.” Read more at Journal Sentinel.

“McGegan was the perfect foil” – Sarasota Music Festival

“Here, Nic McGegan was the perfect foil, accompanying like the master conductor/mentor he is, allowing his young orchestra to revel in the odd sounds called for by the composer, and letting Wincenc fly like the beguiling sorceress of the flute she is.” Read more from Your Observer.

McGegan kicks off Sarasota Music Festival

“If this is what we have to look forward to for two more weeks, then bring it on!” Read more from Sarasota Tickets.

McGegan and the PBO’s “bubbly” reading of Rossini

“McGegan led a bubbly reading, scrupulously building Rossini’s trademark crescendos. The gut strings and valveless horns, while not immaculate in intonation, played with the character and verve that have endeared the Philharmonia to three decades of listeners. Even the hall’s dry acoustics could not mar the proceedings.” Read more from ft.com.

McGegan leads PBO in “a stretch of unalloyed delight”

“Wednesday’s rendition at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto was as ebulliently engaging as anyone could wish. With Music Director Nicholas McGegan leading a crisply paced performance and director Ted Huffman making deft use of the tiny performance space, this was a stretch of unalloyed delight.” Read more from sfgate.com.

Review: Beethoven 9 with Royal Northern Sinfonia

“Conductor Nicholas McGegan was careful to ensure proper, brow-wiping breaks between the movements, this helping to rack up the tension as the finale approached.” Read more from The Journal.

McGegan’s “high-octane, high-methane Beethoven”

“Conductor McGegan brought avuncular drama to Beethoven and Mahler and the RNS triumphed” Read more from The Guardian.

“The audience leapt to its feet at the climax” – McGegan conducts the RNS

“The audience leapt to its feet at the climax. It was a breathtaking performance that fulfilled every expectation.” Read more from The Northern Echo.

“Something special was in the air”

Conductor Nicholas McGegan expertly egged everyone on with schoolboy glee throughout this rich performance, especially in the crisp third movement and exhilarating finale. Read more from The Argus.

McGegan and the BSO are “magical”

Surely one of the most exuberant and joyful conductors, his whole body infectiously brought the programme to life – clearly this is a man who really loves his work. Read more from the Daily Echo.

McGegan and The Baltimore Symphony “salute the Bach family”

The ensemble sounded vibrant and tightly connected to the music. Crisp contributions from the trumpets proved especially telling. Read more from The Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra does the Bach family proud

This 18th-century fare could scarcely have had a better leader than McGegan. Read more from The Washington Post.

Philharmonia Baroque Bach family concert review

“McGegan conducted a superb performance of this alluring score…” Read more from sfgate.com.

St. Louis Symphony review

“On Friday morning, all of them (Johann Sebastian, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian) received their full due from McGegan and his excellent array of soloists.” Read more from STL Today.

McGeghan’s “delightful” performance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra

“Guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, who specializes in Baroque and early Classical music, brought a playful, bubbly personality to the piece. The strings shimmered and the woodwinds were clean and bright.” Read more from Catherine Womack of D Magazine.

Dallas Symphony review: A Stunning Britten

“McGegan had the DSO strings playing with acuity and elegance.” Read more from the Dallas Morning News.

McGegan gracefully leads Pasadena Symphony

“McGegan and the orchestra provided deft, suave accompaniment and at the end, I was left wondering why we don’t hear this delightful piece more…” Read more from the Pasadena Star News.

McGegan’s Compelling ‘Beethoven’s Ninth’: Washington Post Review

“The evening’s programming was an example of the kind of thoughtful, detail-oriented and unusual vision that McGegan exemplifies.” Read more at Washington Post.

McGegan’s Homely ‘Messiah’: Washington Post Reviews

“McGegan is an eminently likable artist — a conductor of quiet warmth and sunniness who quietly conveys the sense that he really enjoys what he’s doing.” Read more at Washington Post.

McGegan ‘Beethoven’s Ninth’ Baltimore Sun Review

“The applause was understandable. With guest conductor Nicholas McGegan at the helm, a high level of energy was guaranteed. ” Read more at The Baltimore Sun.

McGegan’s Night To Shine: Calgary Herald Review

“It was, truly, McGegan’s night, since what was presented was clearly his vision and version of the work.” Read more at Calgary Herald.

Philharmonia Baroque Review: Nicholas McGegan

“Cheerful trumpet flourishes and festive traverso virtuosities festooned ‘A Joyous Christmas: Vivaldi and Zelenka’, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestraʼs holiday concert series led by Music Director Nicholas McGegan.” Read more from San Francisco Classical Voice.

Examiner Reviews: McGegan’s Flawless Command

“This is the sort of music that goes perfectly with Music Director Nicholas McGegan’s highly energized approach to conducting.” Read more at Examiner.

Columbus Symphony Review

“By showcasing these various styles of interpretation and performance style, the Columbus Symphony provided a performance of Baroque music that was both entertaining and refreshing.” Read more at Columbus Dispatch.

Only The Best: The Nights of Madrid

“The Philharmonia performance of the aforementioned Concerto for Violoncello was exuberant, infused with vitality. The entire first and third movements were incredibly clean, clear, and punctuated with fully developed musical gestures that built to a totality that made some part of the universe better.” Read more at Stark Insider.

Philharmonia Season Opener Review

“McGegan approached both Hoboken I/57 and Hoboken I/67 with his characteristic demeanor of spritely wit, allowing each of those “surprises of the day” to register with his audience with just the right blend of mild bemusement and belly laughs.” Read more at Examiner.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presents “vivid” Beethoven Fest with McGegan

“Conductor Nicholas McGegan roused an initially lethargic ASO in a vivid account of Leonore Overture No 1…his colours were firmly nailed to the mast in a rhythmically concise performance of intelligently controlled energy.”

“as an early music luminary [McGegan]  knows how to animate and bring life to rhythm.” Read more at The Australian.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and McGegan present Beethoven

“McGegan was able to remind us of this with his no-fuss approach to dynamics and thoughtful tempi.”

“Conductor Nicholas McGegan took the Symphony No.1 at a comfortable, no-surprises, traditional pace, and the phrasing and articulation of the orchestra was first rate.” Read more at The Barefoot Review.

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Review

“The conductor presented Haydn’s vision with an appealing directness, right from that early shout of C major when Auckland Choral exclaimed “and there was light”. Throughout, he did much to lighten the choral singing, while allowing full-voiced splendour to break out in The heavens are telling…” Read more at NZ Herald.


Fresh and Joyous New Zealand review

“…an interesting compromise was reached between period influences and what was essentially unashamed big-band Haydn sound. This fullness of sound made the dramatic moments unusually intense; the orchestra’s tone-painting was unfailingly vivid. ” Read more at Bach Track.


Hollywood Bowl review

“The attendance count, incidentally, was amazingly consistent with that of McGegan’s concert last September – 8,883 in 2013, 8,804 on Thursday night. That indicates there is a pretty stable audience for this kind of fare.” Read more at LA Times.

McGegan is the man for all seasons

Nicholas McGegan conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic and concertmaster Martin Chalifour in a program featuring Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

“they concentrated on McGegan showing pleasure in every phrase he conducted and an orchestra looking (and sounding) like being on its toes was its only fancy.” Read more at LA Times.


McGegan Revives Teseo at Tanglewood

The group’s accumulated wisdom assured that no strokes of musical characterization went unheard. Read more at Philly.com.

McGegan and Labelle Make Magic at Mostly Mozart

Along with having such a compelling central figure (here featured post-Jason), Teseocontains so many ravishing gems that I suspect many came away from Sunday’s performance scratching their heads wondering why they had never heard the opera before.

Read more at Parterre.


McGegan Brings Teseo to Tanglewood

The decades-old Handel revival, which has brought a host of the composer’s works out of obscurity and into mainstream venues, shows no signs of running out of steam. Evidence of its ongoing vitality was plentiful on Thursday, when the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra gave a vibrant and beautifully sung concert performance of Handel’s early opera “Teseo” at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall under music director Nicholas McGegan. Read more at Boston Globe.

Philharmonia Baroque in ‘Teseo’, at Mostly Mozart

Take one put-upon, virtuous girl and test her steadfastness in love. Add a flamboyant, jealous witch. Stir in a case of mistaken identity, one mixed-up pair of lovers and spirited sidekicks. Sprinkle on liberal doses of magic. Read more at The New York Times.

McGegan Conducts Teseo at Tanglewood

On an autumnal evening, the singing was spectacular, the Ozawa Hall staging imaginative if limited, and the playing by the 31-member period-instrument orchestra, under Nicholas McGegan, vigorous, stylish and expressive. Read more here.


McGegan Offers Teseo at Tanglewood

McGegan led his large orchestra–bolstered at times by extra recorders, flutes, and trumpets–with incisiveness and zest, providing the foundation for a performance that was, musically at least, always satisfying and often more than that. Read more at Boston Classical Review.


McGegan Revives Teseo at Tanglewood

For three hours last night in Ozawa Hall, Nicholas McGegan led Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and an amazing ensemble of singers in a stellar concert performance of Handel’s Teseo. Read more at Classical Scene.


McGegan and Morris Deliver a Song of Summer

Imagine, if you can, sitting in crisply-pressed linen, sipping a perfectly chilled strawberry mojito wafted to your sidewalk table by a ravishing server, as you listen to the murmur of leaves without even the echo of a car radio or a cranky child’s whine to mar the tranquility… and, while you’re at it, throw in a sumptuous sky display as the evening sun sets over the Hudson River. Now set the whole experience to music by Handel, and you’ve got an approximation of Mark Morris’ staging of Acis and Galatea at Lincoln Center. It’s everything good about summer condensed into two hours. Read more at The New York Observer.

McGegan and Mark Morris offer Acis and Galatea at Mostly Mozart

In one of this city’s most highly anticipated events of the summer, the Mark Morris Dance Group returned Aug. 7 to the Mostly Mozart Festival for the New York premiere of Acis and Galatea. Co-commissioned by Lincoln Center, Morris’s latest evening-length piece is a sunny, touching setting of Handel’s exquisite 1718 pastorale that occasioned a stomping, shouting ovation and sent its bewitched audience full of smiles into a mild summer night. Read more at Musical America.

NYC Premiere of Acis and Galatea

The crown jewel of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center is Mark Morris Dance Group’s new staging of ACIS AND GALATEA. The much-anticipated production, which had runs in Berkeley and Boston earlier this spring, made its New York premiere on Thursday evening. Read more at Broadway World.

McGegan conducts Acis and Galatea at the Mostly Mozart Festival

Mr. McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale reveal all the textures with which Mozart enriches Handel…and deepens the sophistication underlying the pastoral. Read more at The New York Times.


Aspen Music Festival Review

“Nicholas McGegan brought his trademark enthusiasm and brio to bear…”

“McGegan established a breathless pace right from the start for Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. The orchestra not only kept up but managed to articulate all the phrasing cleanly and with mercurial style.” Read more at The Aspen Times.

McGegan at the Sarasota Music Festival

“McGegan, who’s obviously done a lot of research into the composer’s style, pared down the sound and came out with a Third Symphony that was as clear as a mountain brook and just as refreshing.” Read more at Your Observer.


McGegan: Mozart & Brahms at the Mostly Mozart Festival

“Every line, every phrase was exquisitely shaped and given a sense of direction and purpose in a rendering marked by the combination of ease and attention that often distinguishes the most compelling Mozart interpretations.” Read more at The San Diego Union Tribune.

Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra review

“most important was Mr. McGegan’s attention to clean, individual lines, particularly in the winds and brass, that together lent the performance added intensity.” Read more at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Pittsburgh Symphony and Nicholas McGegan capture the “joy, vitality of ‘Four Seasons'”

“McGegan led a joyously musical performance combining a stylishly rich sonority, beautifully judged tempi and a naturally expressive style which was free of eccentricity. His appearance as guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Friday night was a reminder of the rare vitality that he brings to music making.” Read more at Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Mark Morris Dance Group/Acis and Galatea review

“the enormous pleasure of this production is in the effusively engaging conducting of McGegan and his fine period instrument orchestra and chorus.” Read more at The Los Angeles Times.

Juditha triumphans Review

“At the center of the vocal whirlwinds generated by Juditha triumphans stood the unsurpassed Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and its peerless director, Nicholas McGegan. One can only be impressed and grateful that this ensemble and this director are able and capable of delivering such a treat as this unusual Vivaldi oratorio.”  Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.


Handel’s Samson with the ACO

“…noted Handelian Nicholas McGegan led with a propulsive momentum and drew fiercely committed playing from his eager orchestra.” Read more at Parterre.


McGegan Leads Fresh and Varied CSO Program

“McGegan led a well-balanced and enjoyable performance, bringing out the quicksilver energy of the outer movements.” Read more at Chicago Classical Review.

McGegan at Chicago Symphony Orchestra Review

“McGegan was a superb accompanist and he led the purely instrumental works with comparable stylistic authority and verve. …he gets the job done with a crisp musicality that elicited splendid playing from the various-sized CSO ensembles.” Read more at The Chicago Tribune.


Philharmonia Baroque SESSIONS at SFJazz Center Review

“Nicholas McGegan…presented a thoroughly engaging biographical sketch of Emanuel, supplemented with projected images. McGegan appreciates the value of spicing up basic facts by presenting them in a humorous context.” Read more at Examiner.com.


Nicholas McGegan at the Pasadena Symphony Review

“…of all living conductors, Nicholas McGegan may be the most constantly satisfying and, indeed, greatest of them all.”

“McGegan possesses a quality rare in a modern conductor: An immediately identifiable style. His performances are buoyant, with a lucid sense of pacing and rhythm, and oozing with charm—the last a rare trait nowadays.” Read more at Crescenta Valley Weekly.


Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Review

“McGegan enforced rhythmic propulsion and earthy joviality, with brusque accents, pungent brass and striking dynamic contrasts reinforcing the work’s rough humor.” Read more at Washington Post.

Philharmonia Baroque at UC Berkeley review

“Under McGegan’s direction, the musicians and singers captured every detail and nuance of Handel’s score with serene engagement.” Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.


Solomon in London SFJazz Center review

“McGegan led a brisk and suave performance.” Read more at the San Francisco Gate.

Solomon in London SFJazz Center review

“McGegan knew how to bring the entire ensemble into the ribald spirit of things.” Read more at Examiner.com.


Solomon in London review

“McGegan led a winning performance.” Read more at the San Jose Mercury.

Mark Morris Dance Group L’Allegro review

“Here, the music was far better than it needed to be, thanks largely to Handel expert Nicholas McGegan’s presence in the pit and a cast of top-notch singers (sopranos Dominique Labelle and Yulia Van Doren, tenor John McVeigh, and bass-baritone Douglas Williams) with impressive credentials in both opera and concert music.” Read more at Feast of Music.


St. Louis Symphony review

“the only loss in this concert is the fact that it’s the only one for which McGegan has been engaged this season. Let us hope to hear from him more often next year.” Read more at St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


New Zealand Symphony Reviews

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Hollywood Bowl Review

“McGegan was encouraging call-and-response dialogues that gave the music life, leading to bouncy, invigorating third and fourth movements.” Read more at Los Angeles Times review.


La Jolla Music Society Summerfest Review

“…McGegan’s San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the most eminent early music orchestra on the West Coast and arguably in the United States.”

“McGegan brought a light, flexible touch to his instrument, always allowing the other musicians to be out front while he provided the necessary rhythmic and harmonic reinforcement.” Read more at UT San Diego.com.


Academy Festival Orchestra Review

“Word has gotten out about these annual concerts led by Nicholas McGegan, the music director of San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and one of the world’s most sought-after conductors of early music.”

“McGegan does many things well, but he has a particular strength when it comes to combing the archive for interesting music and creating coherent sequences of excerpts from long and mostly long-forgotten 18th-century operas.” Read more at Santa Barbara Independent.

Cleveland Orchestra Review

“What’s more, guest conductor Nicholas McGegan treated all to his familiar, enlivening touch.”

“An early beneficiary was Mozart’s Symphony No. 33, which received a distinctly snappy, fastidious reading. The composer’s frolicsome spirit abounded as McGegan summoned bold phrases, luminous counterpoint, and crisp attacks.”

Read more at Cleveland.com.

Aspen Music Festival review

“McGegan conducted all this with his usual buoyancy. Likewise the opening Suite in C Major “Darmstadt” by Telemann and four excerpts from Handel’s Water Music, danced with similar deftness.” Read more at The Aspen Times.


Sarasota Music Festival Review

“Conductor Nicholas McGegan’s energetic gestures were a joy to behold. Egos, experience and talent were all aligned in the service of this scintillating score.” Read more the Herald Tribune.


Mozart and Haydn? He’s Jazzed

By Steve Smith, The New York Times

A magical moment arrives in every concert I have seen involving the conductor Nicholas McGegan, and it comes before any music has been made. It happened on Saturday night as the Orchestra of St. Luke’s sat onstage at Carnegie Hall, ready for a program of canonical works by Mozart and Haydn. The stage door opened, and Mr. McGegan bounded out to the podium, beaming and exuding enthusiasm. This, not the opening bars of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A (K. 201), was the real start of the concert, which turned out to be one of the most appealing, satisfying performances I have heard this season. (The concert was originally scheduled for last November, but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.)

Mr. McGegan is hardly the only charismatic conductor in the business. Still, there is something about his abundant zeal and affection that seems to enhance his work in the Baroque and Classical repertory he favors. Surely this has contributed to the enduring success of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the San Francisco period-instrument ensemble he has directed for 27 years.

What’s more, Mr. McGegan’s early-music expertise translates readily to modern-instrument settings, as has been proved by his memorable encounters with the New York Philharmonic. Pairing him as a guest conductor with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, an ensemble that plays virtually everything authoritatively and stylishly, is as close to a sure bet as can be found on a New York stage.

Mr. McGegan’s tempos in the Mozart symphony were brisk but not driven, his dynamics keenly shaded and attention-grabbing. Everything about this account felt just right, including silken, muted strings in the Andante; springy rhythms in the Menuetto; and splendid work from the oboes and French horns throughout.

In Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2, Mr. McGegan was an alert partner for the soloist, Steven Isserlis, whose ebullience rivaled the conductor’s. Mr. Isserlis played with fiery dexterity and swashbuckling vivacity. In solo lines he pushed and pulled at the tempo, but in ensemble passages he was in perfect accord.

Where the first half of the program showed Mozart and Haydn at their most engaging, the second half highlighted each composer’s ingenuity. Mozart’s ballet music for the opera “Idomeneo” offered a reminder of his unparalleled knack for vivid, economical aural dramaturgy; Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 in E flat showed why his innovations were the model for all that followed. Mr. McGegan again elicited superb work from his players, earning a loud, long ovation.

Orchestra handles Bach deftly

By David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer Music Critic

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s J.S. Bach immersion continues at Verizon Hall as earnestly as in the recent St. Matthew Passion, and with greater density and outward playfulness.

Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-4 plus Orchestral Suite No. 3 are works in which Bach brought the concerto-for-orchestra form to an apex that nobody else caught up with for centuries. And those pieces kept the orchestra busier than Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 on Thursday, with numerous key players facing strenuous solo turns. Performances were excellent: Even when the players played Bach like a second language, they spoke it well.

Though constantly heard on recordings, the Brandenburgs are mostly played in concentrated form by the likes of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, not larger groups best known for Tchaikovsky. Bach specialist Nicholas McGegan was a necessary presence for guiding the generalist Philadelphia Orchestra through these chamber concertos, in which players numbered between 30 and 40, a large ensemble by historically informed performance standards but needed in a venue as large as Verizon.

Though Bach wrote key passages for baroque recorder, McGegan had no flutist of Jeffrey Khaner’s caliber to switch to something smaller. The orchestra was urged to be the best version of itself.

Still, the music insists on a manner not easily absorbed in limited rehearsal. Speedy tempos rightly favored by McGegan wrested the players from the usual pinpointing of individual notes, forcing them to reveal larger ideas at hand by skating over long runs while also giving details their due.

Much burden fell on concertmaster David Kim, who carried a number of movements with style and buoyancy. Has he ever played better? Ditto for oboist Richard Woodhams; Bach is his first language.

Less in the foreground, Davyd Booth migrated from the violin section to harpsichord (uncredited in the program), improvising an elegant countermelody to the “Air on the G String” in Orchestral Suite No. 3 and creating a movement out of thin air in Concerto No. 3. Following the first movement, Bach left only a single bar marked “adagio” with only two concluding chords. Instead of playing the usual brief cadenza, Booth played a five-minute fantasy reportedly based on a harmonic skeleton but mostly improvised, and sounding so Bach-like it could’ve come from the composer’s English Suites.

McGegan was full of smart touches, encouraging breaths in unexpected places and molding phrases in ways that put an entirely new meaning on music I’ve heard for ages. His programs are so good for orchestra hygiene, he should be here often.

Postscript: Though trumpeter David Bilger handled virtuoso passages in Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 well, he did so with an injured lip. Concerto for Two Violins replaces the piece.

‘Teseo,’ Philharmonia Baroque, review

 By Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle

One of the miraculous aspects of Handel’s operas is the way even the composer’s less successful efforts are packed tight with hours’ worth of beautiful and psychologically probing music, seemingly drawn from an inexhaustible well of inspiration. “Teseo,” which got a sumptuous performance by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra on Wednesday night as the final program of their season, is a case in point.

“Teseo” was one of Handel’s earliest operatic efforts for the London stage (the piece was premiered in 1713, making this a nice tercentenary offering), and it doesn’t boast the depth or dramatic riches of, say, “Giulio Cesare” or “Rodelinda.” The libretto, which draws on Greek mythology to set up a silly romantic roundelay involving Theseus and various other members of the Athenian nobility, is rather blocky, and the drama never quite transcends the elementary geometry of its love quadrangle.

But as always with Handel, the score is so replete with musical splendors – sinuous and heartfelt melodies, displays of vocal bravura, instrumental obbligatos artfully designed to match the dramatic situation – that any hesitations immediately fade away. And McGegan is such a long-standing master of this repertoire that the score practically glistens under his fastidious care.

The only disappointment in this performance is that it is practically unstaged – and reading between the lines of the libretto, it becomes clear that “Teseo” probably makes its best impression in a fully theatrical performance.

Aside from the title role, the central antagonist is the sorceress Medea, encountered in the years after her fling with Jason and the infanticides that resulted. She’s still as venomous as ever, and she uses her magical powers more than once to create elaborate stage illusions – an onslaught of demons when she’s angry, an enchanted garden when she’s trying to wax seductive. Those scenes must be transporting when done with full stage effects.

In their absence, we had soprano Dominique Labelle – and as Philharmonia regulars well know, she is sorceress enough. Her Medea was at once vengeful and vulnerable, sung with a combination of limpid vocal tone and rhythmic ferocity.

The rest of the evening, in the Center for the Performing Arts in Atherton, was no less splendid. Soprano Amanda Forsythe was a heroic Theseus, singing in broad, martial cadences that still made room for a show of lovelorn emotion, and studded with superb bursts of precise, seemingly effortless coloratura.

The performance even boasted a little offstage drama, since soprano Amy Freston, who was scheduled to sing the ingenue Agilea, was held up by visa problems. She arrived in time to sing the two final performances, but in the meantime, soprano Valerie Vinzant was hustled into town from Chicago as a late replacement.

And what a replacement! Vinzant, who recently completed an apprenticeship at the Los Angeles Opera, gave an utterly dazzling performance, marked by tonal grace, technical brilliance and clarity of phrasing. Her duet with Forsythe to conclude Act 4 was a knockout display of competitive warbling.

From Expert Cooks, a Baroque Banquet

By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM, The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — New York City’s early-music scene has fostered a number of fine period-instrument ensembles in the recent past. But for a full-size orchestra of period-instrument specialists who have played together for decades under the direction of a committed and charismatic conductor, New Yorkers need to look west — and may well do so with envy. On Thursday evening the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by Nicholas McGegan, gave a performance of Handel’s “Teseo” at the Herbst Theater here that confirmed its leading position in the field.

The work itself is very rarely performed, although it contains delectable arias orchestrated with exceptional attention to variety and color. The cast, led by the glowing soprano Dominique Labelle, as the witch Medea, and the outstanding lyric soprano Amanda Forsythe in the title role, also afforded many moments of unalloyed musical pleasure. But for the most part it was the irrepressible positive energy of the orchestra that breathed life into this three-and-a-half-hour performance and made up for the dramatic lulls and occasional moments of stasis.

The production was minimally staged, with singers wearing stylish contemporary evening dress and interacting with unaffected grace on a stage that was empty, save for two stone benches. The orchestra was set up in front of the stage “in the manner of a Baroque jazz band,” as Mr. McGegan explained in preconcert remarks, with unimpeded sight lines that allowed the instrumentalists to follow the singers’ lines with great flexibility. That matters particularly in this opera, which shows Handel embellishing many arias with finely wrought instrumental solos given over to flutes, trumpets, cello and, most prominently, oboe, played here by the outstanding Marc Schachman.

The plot follows the fortunes of two pairs of Athenian lovers: the dashing military hero Teseo and the incorruptible princess Agilea, and Clizia, Agilea’s confidante, and Arcane, adviser to King Egeo. Egeo has designs on Agilea, while the sorceress Medea wants Teseo for herself. After many scenes of jealousy, scheming and an Orpheus-like test in which Agilea has to feign coldness toward Teseo to save him, the couples are united, and Teseo is revealed as Egeo’s long-lost son.

In a cast dominated by high voices, the women trumped the countertenors. The fine soprano Valerie Vinzant, stepping in at the last moment for Amy Freston, was luminous as an Agilea who was steadfast without being a drip. Her “Deh! V’aprite,” accompanied by a pair of undulating flutes, was exquisitely shaped.

Ms. Forsythe sang the part of Teseo with a vibrant and focused soprano that brought out a likable mixture of military courage and emotional vulnerability in the young hero. Her opening aria, “Quanto ch’a me sian care,” was beautifully sung, with a slender, gleaming sound. For the repetition of the opening, the orchestra fell away to leave only the onstage theorbo, played sensitively by David Tayler, to lend chamberlike intimacy to the moment — an effective device used for several da capo arias.

Ms. Labelle’s voice, with its great reserves of depth and darkness, was well suited to the now regal, now witchy Medea. In “O stringerò nel sen,” one of her “evil” arias, she was not above a little cackle, and she brought out the erotic delight with which Medea imagines her rival’s torment.

Céline Ricci delivered a welcome dose of sharpness and precise coloratura to the part of Clizia, a calculating minx who at one point teases poor Arcane by flirting with the theorbist. Arcane was sung by the countertenor Robin Blaze, who rarely lifted the part out of its somewhat pedestrian register, although he rallied for a fine rendition of “Benché Tuoni.” The countertenor Drew Minter, a natural actor, brought great dramatic instinct to the role of Egeo, but the sharp discrepancy between his upper and lower register was distracting.

All of the singers seemed at ease, buoyed by the orchestra’s attentive playing and the warm sound of the Baroque instruments.

Singers blend magically in MSO’s Baroque music concert

Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

A pared-down MSO, two remarkable voices and an extremely communicative conductor joined forces in an absolutely captivating evening of Baroque music on Friday.

Guest conductor Nicholas McGegan led about 40 Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra strings, plus harpsichord/continuo organ, through an engaging program of Handel, Pergolesi and Scarlatti. They were joined by soprano Yulia Van Doren and countertenor Daniel Taylor.

The two singers brought distinctly different sounds to the solo and duo arias of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” and several by Handel.

Van Doren’s sound is clear, fluid and extremely facile, while Taylor’s is warm, rich and nimble.

Together, the two were magical.

The pair’s solo arias would have been treat enough for the evening. Both Van Doren and Taylor handled the arias with musical depth and nuance, delivering them with a command of Baroque style that came across the footlights as natural expression rather than musicological rigor.

But the evening’s breathtaking moments occurred in their duo arias, which had the feel of intimate conversations rather than a public performance.

Van Doren and Taylor may produce decidedly different sounds, but they are close in range, with Taylor singing easily and convincingly in the mezzo soprano range. Their sounds contrast in solo passages and complement when heard together.

The secret of their deliveries lay only partially in the contrast/blend of their voices. The real magic lay in their hand-in-glove musical interpretations.

The two singers traded, answered and blended phrases exquisitely, sometimes matching the shape of the other’s phrases in perfect sync, sometimes asking a musical question for the other to answer.

They made ornaments sound simple and natural and used vibrato selectively, for musical expression or dramatic effect. They leaned close to one another to match pitch and blend sound, interacting like the best of musical friends.

McGegan and the instrumentalists provided a good part of the evening’s magic, delivering the Scarlatti Concerto Grosso No. 6 and supporting the singers with the finesse and precision of a fine string quartet.

They executed articulations and ornaments with tremendous musical cohesion, created beautifully shaped phrases, and played with absolutely convincing period style and sensibility.

Philharmonia Baroque discloses the ‘essence’ of classical style

Examiner.com

The title of last night’s concert in Herbst Theatre by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan, was Essence of Classical Style. The program lived up to its title in a variety of interesting ways. For one thing the four works on the program all fit very compactly into the five-year period between 1770 and 1774, almost as if the full scope of classical style had been distilled into the musical practices of this one half-decade. Nevertheless, the time span is a significant one, since 1774 was the year in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his K. 201 symphony in A major, a composition that many take to be his first significant symphony achievement and the work McGegan selected to conclude his program.

Equally interesting was the central role played by Johann Christian Bach. I use that adjective literally, since the “London” Bach (known as “John Bach” in that city) was represented by the second and third works on the program, one on either side of the intermission. The first of these was a sinfonia concertante in F major for oboe and bassoon; and, while that genre is most frequently associated with Mozart’s K. 364 in E-flat major, Bach was probably the earliest major promoter of the genre, which grew out of the concerto grosso of his predecessors.

Bach was also a major influence on Mozart. His biographer Heinz Gärtner referred to him in the subtitle of his book as “Mozart’s Friend and Mentor” (at least in Reinhard Pauly’s English translation). Mozart’s earliest keyboard concertos were transcriptions of Bach sonatas; and last night’s (For the record, the source for Mozart’s transcriptions was Bach’s Opus 5 collection of sonatas.)

One final interesting observation is that all four of these compositions required the same resources. The string ensemble was augmented by two oboes (Marc Schachman and Michael DuPree), bassoon (Danny Bond), and two horns (R. J. Kelley and Paul Avril). Schachman and Bond were the soloists for the Bach sinfonia concertante; but they performed from within the ensemble, since their “concerto” solos interleaved with their “symphonic” material. McGegan also decided to divide his two double basses (Kristin Zoernig and Michelle Burr) with one at the rear of either side of the stage.

The result was a program that really did distill that “essence” of the classical style so familiar to pretty much everyone in the audience. Each composition had its own particular stamp of uniqueness. For Bach this involved the “double duty” assigned to Schachman and Bond and the witty rhetoric of his symphony, particularly with its abruptly quiet (and somewhat unexpected) conclusion. For Haydn we had his experimenting with unconventional minor-key sonorities, one of the key features of his approach to the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) literary movement. (For those who follow historically-informed concerts in San Francisco, the Hoboken III/29 string quartet performed by the New Esterházy Quartet, all members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, this past November was composed in 1771, the same year as the Hoboken I/44 symphony.) Finally, we had Mozart coming into his own as a mature symphonist, even if he was only eighteen years old at the time.

However, while each of these composers had his own individual approach to what Charles Rosen called the “dialect” of the classical style, there was at least one practice that emerged in the work of all three of the composers. This was the recognition of the rhetorical impact of full-stop silence. As one listened to the four works on this program, one began to realize that all three of the composers paid as much attention to their rests as they did to their notes. Haydn probably saw those rests as devices for suspense suitable to his Sturm und Drang mood, while Mozart tended to use them for witty banter in K. 201. Nevertheless, one recognized that the half-decade of the four compositions on the program was a time when the rest established its own significance, a significance that would be exploited to even greater extent by Haydn’s pupil, Ludwig van Beethoven (as early as his first three piano sonatas, which he dedicated to Haydn).

If McGegan succeeded in conceiving a program that would capture that “essence” of classical style, then his execution was just as successful in realizing that program. As usual, he was sensitive to both the flow of the overall structure and the nuanced level of all the details. He was particularly effective in enabling that “double duty” of Schachman and Bond in the Bach sinfonia concertante, always controlling the overall balance to establish when the music was “concerto” and when it was “symphony.” He was as much at home with the wit of Bach’s symphony as he was with Mozart’s outdoing that wit four years later in K. 201. The result was a memorable experience through which most of us on audience side discovered that what we thought was “comfortably familiar” about the classical style was not quite as familiar as we had supposed.

Storming at Bing, Philharmonia Baroque Comes Clean

BY DAVID BRATMAN, San Francisco Classical Voice

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted by its music director, Nicholas McGegan, gave its second concert in Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall on Wednesday. Bing is a new Peninsula series home for the orchestra (the program repeats at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Friday and at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley on Saturday and Sunday), a venue that suits the ensemble well. The sound is cleaner and the bright, open surroundings less forbiddingly gothic than those of the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto, where I have heard this group before. McGegan’s decision to play the entire program without harpsichord continuo accentuated the clarity of the sound.

The program notes and preconcert lecturer made a passing note, without emphasis, that this was largely a “Sturm und Drang” program. The point is worth accentuating. Sturm und Drang, usually translated as “storm and stress,” was a style, almost a fad, that passed through northern European instrumental music, particularly symphonies, in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Nervous tension, agitated pulsation, jagged rhythms, sudden emphases, startling pauses, monothematic drill, dark moods, unusual keys, and the minor mode — all sound unexpected from composers who at other points in their careers practiced the light, restrained, courtly style that typifies the earlier Classical period.

Franz Joseph Haydn was the foremost practitioner of Sturm und Drang. He wrote over a dozen symphonies typifying the style, of which No. 44 in E Minor, “Trauer,” heard at this concert, is one of the more outstanding. Haydn’s dive into this weirdness has been attributed to his increasing mastery of his craft and his desire to experiment with the tame orchestra he had at his disposal. A few years later he abruptly abandoned the style. Scholars have guessed that perhaps Haydn’s employer, Prince Esterházy, got tired of it and simply called a halt.

This, however, does not explain the other composers who wrote similar music at the same time. W.A. Mozart and Johann Christian Bach were among them. Mozart wrote two outstanding symphonies of Sturm und Drang, of which we heard his No. 29 in A Major, K. 201. (The other is the “Little” G Minor, No. 25, K. 183.) Although J.C. Bach left only one such symphony, that one is a killer. Philharmonia Baroque whipped through his Op. 6, No. 6, in G Minor, treating it delightfully as a vicious little monster.

Slashing attacks, quick cries from the violins, biting digs from the lower strings, and actual blats from the horns and oboes (a sound orchestras normally try to avoid) enlivened this tiny three-movement work. This performance must have been a real surprise to anyone casually acquainted with the composer’s polite chamber music and operas. The biggest kick came with the ending, which, after a movement’s worth of thundering, suddenly dies off quietly. McGegan turned away from the musicians with a mock shrug.

Rising to a Furious Pitch

The symphonies by Haydn and Mozart received a more expansive approach — so much so, in fact, that McGegan took all the repeats, including those of the second halves of sonata-allegro movements, which most conductors forego. Both of these performances built toward the full Sturm und Drang fury from a distant start. In each, the opening two or three movements were smooth and restrained, though crisply played, and made their pleasure through balance of sound. The winds were decidedly subdued and in the background, a challenge in music of this kind. The lower strings stood out, instead: the overlapping lines of Haydn’s canonic minuet, strong supporting chords in his slow movement, echoing whispers in Mozart’s opening movement, and counter-melodies in his slow movement being stronger than the main lines.

Classical symphony finales tend to be particularly fast and energetic, and here the performances changed character, acquiring the compression and rigidity typical of Sturm und Drang. Haydn’s, in particular, bounced off the walls with the kind of energy the orchestra brought to J.C. Bach. In the Mozart, the change of style began earlier, in the minuet, driven by the honking little tag for horns and oboes that concludes every phrase. McGegan saved the impact of this one for a cute trick-ending, rivaling that of J.C. Bach’s finale for amusement value.

One other work completed the program, J.C. Bach’s Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe and Bassoon in F Major. While written during the same period as the symphony, it’s a more typical work of his, charming without being much of a whirling dervish. The soloists were from within the orchestra, Marc Schachman on oboe and Danny Bond on bassoon, and they played from their regular seats within the orchestra, as well. This was appropriate, as the work is unlike a concerto. It’s merely music for orchestra with more than a normal complement of oboe and bassoon solo passages. It was another enjoyable piece, energetically performed.

Nicholas McGegan tries out Mahler with Pasadena Symphony

By Richard S. Ginell, Los Angeles Times

Known far and wide as a baroque and classical master, Nicholas McGegan instead came to Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday afternoon to try his hand at Mahler for the first time with the Pasadena Symphony.

Don’t be too surprised. Fellow “specialist” Roger Norrington also conducts Mahler. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts Bruckner. Christopher Hogwood does Stravinsky. They refuse to be confined to their pigeonholes, so why should McGegan?

In any case, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 was the perfect choice for McGegan. It is the lightest, most chamber-like of the 10 symphonies and also the most suited for his cheerful musical personality. And he did some wonderful things with it — overall, the freshest live performance I’ve heard of this in some time.

McGegan brought his period-performance experience to play by observing Mahler’s meticulous instructions (which many don’t). He gave the opening movement a lively, happy buoyancy, moving headlong through the second movement, no self-conscious lingering in either.

Perhaps McGegan didn’t have quite as compelling a grip on the third movement; it was lovely, songful, but these still waters should run deep, and one couldn’t sense the depths here. The finale was quick with a touch of mischief but also very beautiful and moving — and soprano Yulia Van Doren had just the right angelic vocal weight.

Starting out on home turf, McGegan turned in a warm, mellow — perhaps a bit too mellow in spots — accompaniment to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, every turn of phrase carefully shaped, with smoothly articulating PSO principal clarinetist Donald Foster fitting right into the pocket.

The Mahler performance was dedicated to the memory of the PSO’s highly respected artistic advisor James DePreist, who died on Friday.

Sadly, this was the PSO’s second loss of a conductor in the last six months, the other being Marvin Hamlisch, who led the Pasadena Pops.

Yet the orchestra got a superb candidate as a possible permanent music director in McGegan — and he’s coming back for another look next season.

CBSO/The Labeque Sisters Play Poulenc at Symphony Hall

By Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

Mozart and Poulenc are surely getting on remarkably well in the great upstairs, such kindred spirits are they. High-spirited, melancholy, tender, lyrical and occasionally cocking snooks, their music takes us into realms where fantasy becomes reality.

And last week’s dream of a CBSO programme dovetailed works by each of them which expressed the quintessence of what they are all about, both of them concertos for two pianos.

There could be no more adept performers of these wonderful works than Katia and Marielle Labeque, siblings (as were Mozart and his sister Nannerl, who premiered the Salzburg piece), and Parisiennes, capturing all of the Poulenc’s street-cred (Mozart with Gallic dust on his shoes).

Nicholas McGegan was the conductor, bubbling with geniality and enjoying every minute of his collaboration with the sparky sisters.

The Mozart was so marvellously well-turned, the Labeques empathetic in huge unison trills and scales handed over in mid-run, the joy of this fabulous music leaping from every bar, though some grudging wind chording at the beginning of the serenade-like slow movement will not have sounded too good on the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast.

Slightly too hectic a tempo was set for the opening of the Poulenc, bustling just a little too fast, though we had time to relish eloquent tone from the sisters’ thumbs, and to admire the glacial harmonics from Eduardo Vassallo’s cello.

Subsequent movements were similarly hard-driven, even the gorgeous, unashamedly Mozartean larghetto. The Ravel encore would have been lovely were it not for the exhibitionist hair-tossing piano-bashing of one of the sisters – no names, no pack-drill.

Poulenc had begun the evening with the pastiche of his Suite Francaise, some noble delivery from the CBSO brass. And the CBSO brass brought an unexpected frisson to Mozart’s Symphony no.39 in E-flat, with natural trumpets biting through the textures.

McGegan positively waltzed through the first movement, released an andante which I wish could have gone on forever, and progressed to a bustling finale which set off fireworks of joy.

Nicholas McGegan leads an evening cleverly programmed around water

By Catherine Reese Newton, The Salt Lake Tribune

On a bone-chilling day like Friday, what sane person would want to go near the water? Yet that’s what the Utah Symphony invited listeners to do, on a cleverly programmed concert that started 2013 on a thrilling note.

The second and third suites from Handel’s “Water Music,” the best-known selections on the program, got top billing. British conductor Nicholas McGegan, known for his mastery of early music, led the chamber-size Utah Symphony in a brisk, jovial performance. Particularly during the trumpet-heavy Suite No. 2, it was easy to imagine oneself lounging on the banks of the Thames, nibbling on cucumber sandwiches, as the barge bearing the royal musicians floated by. Charming strings predominated in the merry Suite No. 3, with Caitlin Valovick-Moore contributing a delightfully jaunty air with her flute and piccolo playing.

McGegan paired the Handel on the second half of the program with water music of a decidedly different character, the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes.” From the opening bars, Louise Vickerman’s distinctive harp playing made it clear that the North Sea beaches Britten’s characters inhabited are nothing like the banks of the Thames. The full-size Utah Symphony brought all its force to bear in the most dynamic and involving performance of the Sea Interludes in recent memory.

Utah Symphony concertmaster Ralph Matson is this weekend’s soloist in a pair of early concertos. First came Vivaldi’s brief but lively E-flat Major Concerto, subtitled “The Storm at Sea.” (It’s the fifth in a set of concertos that included the far-more-famous “The Four Seasons.”) Playing at breakneck speed, Matson and the orchestra deftly conveyed the gusts of wind and turbulent waves. The audience got a more leisurely look at the violinist’s artistry in Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1, the only work on the program that had nothing to do with water. Matson masterfully balanced stately elegance with lyrical beauty, and McGegan led the Utah Symphony in a sensitive supportive performance. Jason Hardink’s work on the harpsichord was especially noteworthy.

Mendelssohn’s “Die schöne Melusine” and Sibelius’ “The Swan of Tuonela” opened the program. McGegan, who conducted without a baton all evening, led the orchestra in expertly shaded readings of these short tone poems. Lissa Stolz, on English horn, gave a beautifully expressive performance in the role of the swan, with fine support from cellist Ryan Selberg, violist Roberta Zalkind and violinist Kathryn Eberle.

Toronto Symphony makes Messiah magic at Roy Thomson Hall

By John Terauds, Musical Toronto

There was an audible, palpable buzz in the air after Tuesday evening’s first Toronto Symphony Orchestra performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. It was like going home after a pop concert.

The Toronto Symphony and its many guests on stage had earned every single one of the hundreds of loud shouts of Bravo! that rang out after the music stopped.

This was my 12th consecutive annual TSO Messiah — the second led by conductor Nicholas McGegan — and I’m pretty sure it was the best.

Let me count the ways.

First, the soloists.

It was nice enough to have tenor Michael Schade and baritone Russell Braun back on one of the stages on which Toronto first fell in love with them. But they — along with countertenor Daniel Taylor in fine voice — also brought a deep appreciation for the words they were singing, imbuing the often technically challenging music with the appropriate emotion.

The three men were joined by a newcomer to Toronto, young American soprano Yulia Van Doren. It was immediately clear why she has been creating flutters of  excitement in the Baroque-music world. Her coloratura technique was as impressive as the warmth of her delivery on Tuesday night, proving that she is an exceptional find.

Then there was the chorus.

Rather than being spread out in the choir loft one level above the stage, 135 members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir were clustered on risers directly behind the orchestra, giving an overall focus and compactness to the sound that flattered McGegan’s interpretation.

The choir’s balance was excellent, their singing precise. The women, especially, were in fine voice, singing and sounding as one.

We can’t forget the orchestra.

There were only 34 members of the Toronto Symphony playing through most of the piece (two trumpeters and a timpanist stepped in briefly when needed, as in the Hallelujah Chorus), but they more than held their own against the huge choir.

McGegan had everyone playing period-style, with shorter strokes of the bow and next to no vibrato on the stringed instruments. But the real finesse of the musicianship arrayed on that stage came out when only a handful of instruments would accompany a solo aria.

Principal Bass Jeffrey Beecher’s careful, subtle work gorgeously underpinned continuo sections with elegant stripes of sound.

And the whole wouldn’t be complete without the conductor.

McGegan brought the sort of subtlety that usually comes from a resident conductor’s years of work with an orchestra to Tuesday’s performance. There was also a lightness about it that could convey deep drama one moment and blessed relief the next. The music danced, it breathed — and, best of all, it was alive with light and immediacy.

All in all, these are the ingredients Messiah magic is made of.

Yes, it would have been nice to hear the whole work, not a version with cuts. And, yes, Roy Thomson Hall is a few hundred seats too large for Baroque music done with an appropriate-sized orchestra. But neither of these quibbles is worth worrying about when you can get a youthful, 2012 audience excited about a piece of music premiered in 1742.

PBO closes season with a feast

Stark Insider

As the risk of sounding preposterous, the current offering of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is no ordinary PBO concert. Prefaced by a pre-concert discussion between conductor Nicholas McGegan and director Bruce Lamott, the positively bacchanalian Alexander’s Feast brought this 2011-2012 season to a close.

Alexander’s Feast was written by Handel in 1697, who repeatedly trotted it out as a moneymaker. The piece fell into disfavor in Victorian times, largely because it lacked a religious theme. However, it was so well known that the Westminster Abbey statute of Handel includes a bound folio of Alexander’s Feast tucked under Handel’s left elbow. The PBO has not performed this piece in 1988. After this week’s spell-binding concerts, one hopes that they will eventually record it.

Technically not an oratorio, Alexander’s Feast moves quickly largely because it lacks the third da capo section found in many A-B-A type oratorios. Instead, individual sections flows quickly between recitative arias and chorals and then moved on. Given that the soloists were none other than soprano Dominique LaBelle, tenor Dann Coakwell, and baritone Philip Cutlip the treatment of the arias was spellbinding.

The libretto was derived from a work by British poet laureate Dryden. Beginning with the lines:

Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won

by Philip’s warlike son

Aloft in an awful state

The god-like hero sate

On his imperial throne.

the piece quickly establishes that this is a feast – the feast of St. Cecilia, patron saint of music.

The first half of the evening was dominated by Dominique Labelle. If you were stone-cold deaf and not immediately won over by her honey-toned coloratura, you’d be taken in by her laugh-aloud simpering treatment of several airs. Ever the coquette, she “sigh’d and look’d, sigh’d and looked, sigh’d and looked and sigh’d again.” Her theatrics alone are worth the price of admission.

The second half of the evening belonged to Dann Coakwell and Philip Cutlip. Since the concert, I’ve downloaded a half-dozen treatments of the air “The king seiz’d a flambeau,” and none of them comes anywhere close to Coakwell’s treatment. Likewise, the ferocity of Cutlip’s “Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries” gave the second half an intensity not found earlier in the evening.

After an evening such as this, one waits with baited breath for the 2012-2013 season.

Music review: Nicholas McGegan conducts the Pasadena Symphony

Los Angeles Times

Beethoven is not a composer audiences immediately identify with early-music specialist Nicholas McGegan, especially Beethoven performed on modern instruments. But as music director of the period-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco since 1985, McGegan has been updating his profile over the past few years.

Next season, he is scheduled to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Pasadena Symphony, but on Saturday at the Ambassador Auditorium he joined them for vigorous and finely detailed accounts of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 (K.466), featuring pianist Nareh Arghamanyan.

The 23-year-old Vienna-trained musician is already a thoughtful and effective Mozart player. Though so far she appears to favor more romantic composers such as Liszt and Rachmaninoff, her stylistic approach in Mozart valued clarity of articulation, a firm tone and emotional restraint. As a result, her reading gathered cumulative power and an even deeper emotional resonance. She was especially moving in the pensive second movement Romance. Less reserved on the piano bench, Arghamanyan emoted like a virtuoso, arms occasionally dancing ballet-like in the air after she dispatched some tricky passage work. Beethoven wrote two cadenzas for this concerto, and the first Arghamanyan played in the opening Allegro was exceptionally lovely — idiomatic but also suggesting the ethereal late Beethoven to come. McGegan and the Pasadeneans proved agile collaborators.

After intermission, McGegan’s propulsive and lean-textured account of the “Eroica” avoided any hint of solemnity or Beethovenian pomposity. Intonation problems from the brasses in the mighty fanfares of the second movement Funeral March did not impede the exciting forward motion. McGegan and the orchestra’s rendition was perfectly paced and weighted, from the score’s two famously abrupt opening chords to its finish 45 minutes later. The concert opened with a sprightly reading of Mendelssohn’s pictorial water-themed piece “The Fair Melusina Overture.”

SLSO pairs conductor, Mozart to thrilling effect

St. Louis Post Dispatch

There are many reasons why listening to recordings can never really replace going to live performances: the spontaneity, the surprise in innovative programming that puts different works together in unexpected and enlightening ways, the chance of catching musical lightning on an otherwise ordinary evening.

This weekend at Powell Symphony Hall, we can add the pleasure of conductor Nicholas McGegan’s company on the podium for (alas) the only time this season. Amazingly energetic and entirely engaged in the music, given to balletic movements and gestures that convey worlds of musical meaning, McGegan’s presence onstage is virtually a guarantee that a good time will be had by all.

On Friday morning, McGegan was well-matched with the music in an all-Mozart program that opened and closed with a pair of familiar, spirited symphonies and used a pair of concertos as centerpieces.

He was well-matched with his musicians, too, as members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra led by acting associate concertmaster Ellen dePasquale responded with near perfect playing.

The Mozart effect began with the first piece on the program, the Symphony No. 32 in G major, K. 318. Short and sparkling, it was performed with exciting energy and made a brilliant curtain-raiser.

The first of the morning’s two concertos brought the welcome return of pianist Jeremy Denk. Denk is supremely self-confident in his approach, and with good reason: He’s got the musical goods to justify the attitude.

His vehicle this weekend is the Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K. 425. It’s one of those quintessentially Mozartean works in which inventions spill out too quickly for the composer to explore them all; he simply plays with each for a few measures before moving on to the next.

It was performed with elan by both Denk and McGegan, who seemed to be entirely in tune with one another in every sense: spirited in the first and last movements, with thoughtful solo passages complemented by the lilting, lovely playing of the orchestra in the middle.

The concert’s second half opened with another concerto, the Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat major, K. 447. This one was performed by an in-house soloist, SLSO principal horn Roger Kaza.

Kaza’s attitude was as modest as Denk’s was assured, but his confident, near-flawless playing said it all. The horn is a notoriously tricky instrument that tends to keep its performers humble; Kaza demonstrated with seeming effortlessness how he earned the principal’s seat here, and gave listeners a tour of the horn’s range in his cadenza.

The final work on the program was the familiar Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504, “Prague.” From the brilliant opening to the second Andante movement through the final Presto movement, the orchestra followed McGegan effortlessly in every measure, like a well-tuned Porsche in practiced hands, zipping along a curving mountain road. You may hear comparable performances on certain recordings, but adding the visual aspects of watching McGegan put this orchestra through their paces is a special treat.


Nicholas McGegan with The Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom

Cleveland Classical.com

Baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan, longtime director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom on Sunday evening, August 27, in what appeared to be a hodgepodge of unrelated works: Bach, Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Violinist Stephen Rose and soprano Teresa Wakim were soloists. Oh, and throw in the Blossom Festival Chorus, too. But what seemed like a dog’s breakfast on paper proved to be a satisfying and enjoyable program for a beautiful late summer evening. The Blossom lawn was packed, and there were long lines of cars waiting to park, resulting in what seemed like an usually large number of latecomers.

The first thing that one notices about Nicholas McGegan’s conducting is its idiosyncratic nature. He was not conducting beats; he was conducting music. He does not use a baton, but with gestures — sometimes flailing of arms and little dances on the podium — he led the reduced-sized orchestra as a large chamber ensemble. He also called upon the Cleveland Orchestra’s legendary ability to listen to themselves and to respond to the music as it progressed. Rather than a conductor/dictator, Mr. McGegan was more of a “suggester” for the music, prompting performances of subtlety and refinement, but with energy and rhythmic awareness. One can well understand the affinity such notable early music performers as Loraine Hunt Lieberson and Christine Brandes have with Mr. McGegan.

The concert opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183. Mr. McGegan favored brisk tempos, but with an air of wit and sophistication. The delicate playing of the second movement was especially appealing. Here and at several other points later in the concert, Mr. McGegan was not afraid to bring the orchestra down to a true pianissimo. At least from inside the pavilion where the sound was mostly acoustic, it was refreshing. The symphony’s Trio featured extraordinary playing by the winds. (Mr. McGegan gave them a special bow at performance end.)

Stephen Rose, the orchestra’s principal second violin, was the soloist in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041. Nicholas McGegan has been in the forefront of the historically informed performance practice movement, but going beyond specialist period instrument orchestras, he regularly conducts orchestras of modern instruments. This performance was an excellent example of that work; this was a “modern-informed” reading, and in its own context it was convincing. Mr. Rose’s playing style employed vibrato more freely than would be used on a period instrument with gut strings; for example, in the third movement, several dissonances make a striking impression if performed more as ornaments that begin without vibrato and then resolve to the next harmony. Mr. Rose’s more modern approach downplayed these harmonic features but did not detract from his overall performance in the context of the modern orchestra.

After intermission the Blossom Festival Chorus was featured in two of the four “Coronation Anthems,” written by George Frideric Handel for the coronation of King George II in 1727. Each is taken from a biblical text related to various parts of the coronation ceremony. The text for No. 1, Zadok the Priest (performed here as the concert closer) is from 1 Kings 1:38-40 about the biblical account of the anointing of Solomon by Zadok and Nathan and the people’s rejoicing at this event. Handel’s setting has been used at every coronation since 1727. It is the briefest of the four anthems, lasting just over five minutes in three short sections, ending in rousing shouts of “God save the King!”

The Blossom Festival Chorus, prepared by Cleveland Orchestra Assistant Chorus Director Lisa Wong, gave an enthusiastic performance. The orchestra begins Zadok with quietly pulsing string arpeggios, leading to the chorus’s fortissimo entrance of the words, “Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon King.” It was thrilling.

Opening the second half of the program, the chorus sang the third of the anthems, The King Shall Rejoice, based on on Psalm 21: 1-3, 5. It is a more extended work in four movements in a variety of moods, ending with a big “Alleluia” fugue. Again, the chorus was heard to much better advantage than they had been earlier in the summer season in the orchestra’s show tune concert.

In between the two Handel choral works the orchestra played Handel’s Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op 3, No. 2. In the concerto grosso form, there is no single soloist, but multiple soloists (or groups of instruments) are concerted against the main orchestra. The orchestra’s principal players had their chance to shine. The performance showed many examples of well-thought out phrasing. Nothing was overstated; everything was tidily in its musical place.

Except for the big oratorios Elijah and St. Paul, Felix Mendelssohn’s choral works are more or less forgotten, except by church choirs. The orchestra and chorus gave the audience the opportunity to hear two of these gems in lovely performances. (These works are generally performed with organ, so hearing the orchestral accompaniments was a special treat.) The 1831 Verleih’ uns Frieden (Grant Us Peace) opens with an introduction for the violas, cellos and double basses, who accompany the first choral stanza sung by men in unison. The women join on the second stanza, and for the first time in the concert we heard the sound of the clarinet in the orchestra. Not until the third stanza did the violins join the ensemble. The piece ends quietly, again with the mellow low strings.

Hear My Prayer is a short cantata for solo soprano and chorus. The soloist, Teresa Wakim, is enjoying a rising career; this was her Cleveland Orchestra debut. She is an alumna of Oberlin College Conservatory and will return to Severance Hall during the coming season. Her fresh voice and melting phrasing were among the highlights of this concert. The soprano soloist alternates with the chorus. The text of this sacred work is non-biblical, written by the same English writer, William Bartholomew, who composed the libretto for Elijah. The second section of the piece sets the beautiful “O for the wings, for the wings of a dove! Far away, far away would I rove! In the wilderness build me a nest, and remain there for ever at rest.” (The program booklet for the evening did not supply either texts or translations for any of the choral works.) The work ends in serene repose. At the curtain call Ms. Wakim used a very stagy fake curtsy more suitable had it followed a performance of an opera. It seemed silly; a simple bow would have sufficed here.

This concert proved that bombast is not a necessary element of Blossom. Thanks to Nicholas McGegan and the assembled forces, the quiet moments were among those that one carried away in memory.

A Magician Pulling Strings to Prove a Point: Love Stinks

By ALLAN KOZINN, The New York Times

Handel’s opera “Orlando” has had a peculiar life. It was little more than a footnote in Handel’s day. He composed it in 1732, to an anonymous libretto based on Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso.” He performed it only 10 times in 1733, then dropped it entirely, never bothering to revive it. It languished until the 20th century, when conductors (mostly of the period-instrument persuasion) began to nudge it into the repertory alongside “Alcina” and “Ariodante,” Handel’s two other works based on Ariosto.

“Orlando” has a persuasive new champion in Nicholas McGegan, who led his superb Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco and five fine singers in an invigorating performance at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday afternoon, as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival.

The brevity of the work’s early life is a mystery, given that the score is packed with Handelian vocal writing at its best. The aria styles are varied — emotional accompagnato arias seem nearly to outnumber the purely showy da capo ones — and Handel even offers pictorial touches, as in the shepherdess Dorinda’s lovelorn arioso, “Quando spieghi tuoi tormenti, amoroso rossignolo” (“When you sing of your woes, amorous nightingale”), which is suffused with birdcalls. Other arias are underpinned with dance rhythms that carry and comment on the passions of the text. And much of the orchestral writing is top-drawer.Granted, “Orlando” has a convoluted libretto. Orlando, a knight, cannot decide whether to pursue heroic quests or love, so Zoroastro, a magician, orchestrates an adventure that shows him how chaotic love can be: Orlando falls in love with Angelica, and Dorinda is in love with Medoro. Dorinda and Orlando are out of luck: Angelica and Medoro are happily betrothed.

The situation drives Orlando over the edge — Handel gives him a magnificent mad scene — and convinces the decidedly more sensible Dorinda that love is dangerous (but manageable). In the end Zoroastro restores Orlando to sanity so that he can turn his attention to glorious knightly exploits.

Although the work is an opera seria, it is so rich in comic possibilities that Mr. McGegan and company justifiably played up its farcical side in this semi-staged concert reading. The soprano Yulia Van Doren made the most of these comic implications in her portrayal of Dorinda but never overdid them. Her voice blossomed as Handel fleshed out her character, and she — like the other singers here — brought consistently interesting, often athletic embellishments to the repeated sections.

In the title role the countertenor Clint van der Linde was curiously mopey from the start; he did not behave much differently in the mad scene from the way he did otherwise. His clarion timbre takes getting used to, but he shaped Orlando’s music dramatically. Dominique Labelle used her flexible, burnished soprano thoughtfully in her dignified characterization of Angelica, and her florid ornamentation was often dazzling.

Diana Moore, the mezzo-soprano, matched those qualities beautifully in her smooth-toned, compassionate account of Medoro. Zoroastro’s appearances are few, but Wolf Matthias Friedrich, a bass with a rich, deep tone, sang them commandingly.

Mr. McGegan arrayed his orchestra onstage in an oval surrounding two end-to-end harpsichords, a seating plan that some paintings suggest may have been the norm for a Baroque pit orchestra. He led a brisk, vigorous performance, and the orchestra sounded fine, its odd seating notwithstanding.

Philharmonia Baroque Lights Up All Creation

According to the Bible, it took God six days to create our world. It took Haydn two years to describe those days in music, with help from the biblical narrative, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a couple of psalms. His labors (as did God’s) succeeded in a monumental achievement. Under the baton of Nicholas McGegan, the story of The Creation was told in marvelous detail by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorus and three soloists, Sunday night at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

Out of the opening Chaos, the large Philharmonia Chorus sang “Let there be light,” and there was indeed light. Tenor Thomas Cooley, as the angel Uriel, was electrifying, describing the first day as if he himself were experiencing the awe and beauty of the light. His every ensuing announcement — eloquent in diction, every word mattering — rang with excitement and wonder. The chorus enthusiastically joined him in celebration of the amazing events.

The orchestra gave wonderful expression to Haydn’s love of detail, “rolling in foaming billows,” “softly purling” as a “limpid brook,” rising “in splendor bright” with the sun, creating “great whales” with a platoon of bass instruments, welcoming the “fullest glory” of the Earth with bright brasses, expressing “joy and bliss” in a tune sweetly played by the cellos as Eve was introduced, and underlining the tread of “heavy beasts” with the huge contrabassoon. What a feast of musical description Haydn created, and how delightfully the orchestra served it!

Dominique Labelle was the angel Gabriel in Parts 1 and 2, Eve in Part 3. Among many brilliant solo and ensemble moments in her performance, a standout was her singing of “On Mighty Pens.” The pens are the eagles’ wings, and we also got larks, doves, and a nightingale. Her inventive ornamentation and melodic changes made the repetitious aria into a tour de force, beautifully supported by flutist Janet See as a lovely nightingale and oboist Marc Schachtman animating the other birds.

Labelle, Cooley, and baritone Philip Cutlip, as Raphael, made a splendid trio in Parts 1 and 2. Cutlip also sang a tender Adam, with Labelle’s Eve. Their extended scene can be a bit of a trial for modern audiences, but the responsibility for that rests with Haydn, not with these gifted singers. The idea that a woman should be obedient to a man has gone out of fashion, and the idea that, of all God’s creations, human beings are the best, rings hollow at a time when humans seem intent on destroying God’s creation and each other. Haydn thought we were all Enlightened, like himself. Let’s hope that we evolve in the direction he had in mind.

Nicholas McGegan and Robert Levin, tricksters at the Los Angeles Philharmonic

By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

The bouncy Nicholas McGegan and boastful Robert Levin came to Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday night to play. The games were devised by Mozart, Haydn and pompous Luigi Cherubini more than 200 years ago, but someone forgot to tell that to these ageless kids. The Los Angeles Philharmonic was the team.

McGegan began by impishly slapping around Cherubini’s “Anacréon” Overture. The energetic British Baroque specialist signaled the winds individually to come out fighting. Then dancing, bobbing, throwing punches with both hands, he brought the rest of the orchestra into the fray.

Beethoven said nice things about Cherubini (as if he had to worry about competition from his Italian contemporary who tried to break into French society). Riccardo Muti, pretty much alone among the majors, champions Cherubini. Long Beach Opera will attempt a rare performance of the composer’s “Medea” next month.

The New Grove Dictionary of Opera dismisses “Anacréon,” describing it as never successful “either in France or elsewhere.” Toscanini liked the overture and Artur Rodzinski introduced it to the L.A. Philharmonic in 1931. But McGegan did the unthinkable, he made this 10-minute curtain-raiser seem like a rare invention, its advanced instrumental effects and elusive melodies anticipating the Berlioz of 30 years later. Some composers, it seems, just need a slugger.

The main attraction was Levin, who was soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22. He walked onstage, grabbed a microphone and immediately, like a magician, challenged the audience to stump him.

The musically literate were instructed to write down, at intermission, a melody in the style of Mozart. He would then begin the second half of the program by picking four of them blindly from a bowl and improvise a fantasy around them. If the keys were distant, no matter — he would, he said, pilot the elevator from toys in the basement to the lingerie on the fifth floor.

He also let it be known that he would be improvising the cadenzas and maybe a few other little bits in the Mozart concerto. Here he challenged the orchestra. Levin seemed to like nothing better than tossing off a spectacular pianistic flourish and then turning to the players, as a jazz musician might, with a brassy check-that-out gesture. The orchestra pretty much ignored him.

Levin is known as a specialist of the historic fortepiano (the keyboard of Mozart’s time) who is able to get into the 18th century mindset. But what perhaps keeps Levin’s Mozartean swagger from seeming insufferable is that he is a pianist (on Thursday he stuck with a modern grand) also of this world. He commissions contemporary works and has an outstanding new recording of the piano music by the 94-year-old French composer Henri Dutilleux.

In Mozart’s concerto, inspiration did not strike in the big first movement cadenza, which seemed a bit perfunctory and loaded with flashy boilerplate compared with the one on Levin’s 1998 fortepiano recording of the concerto. The pianist did, though, provide some touchingly beautiful embellishments in the slow movement. The boisterous Finale suited him just fine as musical jungle gym for an Olympian gymnast.

The improvisation after intermission wound up being three Mozart-like tunes and a Christmas carol. “Fasten your seat belts,” he announced. On his nine-minute wild ride, the elevator hit all the floors and not in order and not by obeying the rules of gravity or the needs of its occupants’ stomachs. It was a blast.

The program ended with Haydn’s Symphony No. 93, and it was a blast too. Alert to Haydn’s wit, color and theatrical surprises, McGegan not only punched out this score but danced it as well, especially in the 3/4-time first movement and the Menuetto. The L.A. Philharmonic players looked as if they were trying hard to keep up their concert faces. Close your eyes and you could hear they were elated.

Mozart masters at the Kimmel

By David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Not so long ago (it seems), pianist Robert Levin and conductor Nicholas McGegan were the juvenile delinquents of the early-music world.

In contrast to John Eliot Gardiner’s rigid righteousness and Gustav Leonhardt’s priestly sobriety, Levin and McGegan often seemed to be having a subversive party to which the audience was invited. Musically, that translates into freewheeling spontaneity that’s released rather than inhibited by doctrine. Now in their 60s and giving an all-Mozart Philadelphia Orchestra concert, they’re much the same, only better, and clearly haven’t visited reform school.

Levin departed from the printed program by inviting the audience to jot down Mozartean melodies at intermission, on which he improvised. That’s not unusual for him or other classical artists – from the first half of the 20th century. But Thursday at the Kimmel Center, results were geographically specific.

Some 15 years ago when I heard Levin do this in New York, the submitted melodies were quirkier and more original than the conventional solidity that came his way in Philadelphia. But Thursday’s improvisation (incorporating several of the tunes) was richer – intense, vital, meaningful music with a Bach-cum-Reger density full of dark corners and sharp edges.

In Piano Concerto No. 18, Levin scaled back the grand-piano sound to resemble a Mozart-period fortepiano. Color was minimized by cool, clean attacks on individual notes. Sound dry? Not with the Levin/McGegan brand of physical involvement: While leaning and levitating, the implied motion of any given phrase was clarified.

The music’s seams sometimes showed, but in Mozart, revealing the music’s exalted craft is a source of expression that also counteracts the glossy blandness that can set in amid the concerto’s sparkling surfaces and circumscribed range of keys.

McGegan reversed the typical Philadelphia Orchestra performance equation most obviously in the Symphony No. 40. Instead of using sound as a primary means of expression, he released the power of the notes with a less saturated tone and his typically impetuous sense of rhythm. There was no need to probe the music for extramusical significance because so much Mozart was heard in any given moment. In some of the best playing of the season, the orchestra was effortlessly disciplined. Woodwind playing was gorgeous.

What a contrast the symphony made with Mozart’s incidental music to Thamos, King of Egypt. This is basically a film score, and though good music, it shows the composer reacting to somebody else’s drama rather than creating his own. He must have really needed cash that day.

McGegan, Labèques and Mozart at the Hollywood Bowl

By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

Happy days are here again. Nic is back at the Bowl.

Having come up with a winning combination of the cheerful Nicholas McGegan leading an all-Mozart program at the Hollywood Bowl last year – opening overture, cheery piano concerto and big symphony – the Los Angeles Philharmonic repeated the formula Tuesday night and will again on Thursday. This time, to double the ebullience ante, there was Mozart’s “extremely jolly” (McGegan’s description) Concerto for Two Pianos with Katia and Marielle Labèque as soloists. Instead of August’s dark 40th Symphony, there was the much livelier “Linz” (Symphony No. 36).

Once more a beaming McGegan (he refers to himself as Nic on his website) bounded on stage, video cameras broadcasting big smiles on big screens. Once more a small-sized L.A. Philharmonic made the bright, nimble, tart 18th-century-like sounds that this British early music specialist and music director of the Bay Area’s Philharmonia Baroque favors.

Atypically for the Bowl, though, the first half of the program featured atypical Mozart. For an “overture,” McGegan chose three of the four entr’actes from “Thamos, King of Egypt,” which together – a dramatic first movement, a minor-keyed slow movement and an upbeat finale – could have been a small 15-minute Mozart symphony. Then again, given how short the program was (only a single hour’s worth of music), McGegan might have actually programmed a slightly longer real symphony instead.

“Thamos” contains Mozart’s one attempt at writing incidental music for a play, an “heroic drama” by a certain Tobias Philipp Freiherr von Gebler that was first staged in Bratislava in 1773 with another composer’s score. The 20-year-old Mozart was asked for something better when the show about sun worship and sin in ancient Egypt reached Salzburg three years later. He added more numbers (including some for chorus and vocal soloists) for a later revival.

One can find here hints of the composer of “Magic Flute” to come. But incidental music tends to irritate dedicated opera composers (Philip Glass being an exception) and the Two Piano Concerto, from 1779, is, in fact, the more theatrical work. Written for the composer to play with his sister, this is Mozart’s most playful concerto, full of “naughty humor,” McGegan said in his witty, brief remarks made as he filled time while “strong men” lifted the piano lid.

There is a lot of teasing and one-upmanship between the pianists, and it would be hard to imagine a duo more suited to this music than the glamorous Labèque sisters, who have been playing together for at least half a century. They performed from memory, trills and scales rolling from one piano to the other as if a single instrument and player.

But there was also plenty of willfully individual display, and in the slow movement, they achieved a unified lovely, divine dignity. While I am not always a fan of the video aspect to the Bowl, the occasional use of a split screen to show the sisters was inspired and needn’t have been only occasional.

McGegan might have also been given more on-screen attention. He conducts without a baton, excitingly scooping the music up with his hands and arms. But we never got to watch him expressively mimic more than a bar or two at time, the impatient camera busily cutting away to show trumpet or timpani. That was too bad in the “Linz,” which McGegan led with characteristic flair, punching out rhythms and merrily getting maximum ping for his buck.

In his desire for splendor and speed, McGegan rushed past repeats, getting through the score in 23 uplifting minutes and getting us out of the Bowl at a quarter to 10. But why? There was time to linger. An encore by the Labèques at least would have been warranted (Mozart wrote much exceptional music for two pianos and also for piano four hands).

An encore in these parts for McGegan is warranted as well, and perhaps next time something grander. One of the great Handel men on the scene, he regularly performs the oratorios with Philharmonia Baroque in Berkeley. The Bowl is not that far away.

Making Handel Spark, Then Fanning the Flame

By STEVE SMITH, The New York Times

Before the New York Philharmonic had played a note of its Handel program at Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday evening, the audience had a good idea of what to expect. This was partly because the conductor, Nicholas McGegan, is preceded by a stellar reputation as a Handel specialist. Even those unaware of his authoritative performances and recordings with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, a period-instrument ensemble from San Francisco, might have heard him conduct a “Messiah” with the Philharmonic in 2003 or 2007.

But mostly it was the way Mr. McGegan bustled to the podium, with a skip and a hop in his stride, that indicated what was in store. When it comes to conveying the vital spark in Handel’s music, Mr. McGegan has few peers. The program — a mix of opera arias featuring the German soprano Christine Schäfer and festive instrumental pieces — gave him ample opportunity to demonstrate the point.

Mr. McGegan did not try to make his trim complement of Philharmonic musicians sound like a period group: string players judiciously applied vibrato; horn players and trumpeters used modern valved instruments. For anyone grown accustomed to natural horns in Handel, hearing the radiant corona their modern descendants produced in the Concerto a Due Cori No. 3 in F took some readjusting. Fine detailing among the strings was initially lost in a golden wash.

Balances were sorted out reasonably quickly, allowing springy rhythms and keen articulations to register more clearly. Those qualities enlivened vibrant accounts of the inventive Concerto Grosso in C (“Alexander’s Feast”) and the boisterous “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” which concluded the concert.

Handel has kept Ms. Schäfer busy lately. She recently appeared in a Viennese production of “Partenope,” and an appealing CD of selections from “Alcina,” recorded with the Berlin Baroque Soloists for the CAvi-music label, will be issued here in May.

During the first half of the concert she deployed her light, clear voice with brilliance and agility in three selections from “Partenope,” though her characterization was curiously cool. (The same could not be said of the vivacious instrumental playing in “Qual farfalletta.”)

Ms. Schäfer hit her stride in the second half, performing arias from “Alcina” (“Di, cor mio” and “Ombre pallide”), and “Se pietà di me non senti” from “Giulio Cesare,” with powerful dramatic insight and fierce technical command.

Enjoyable CSO program explores less traveled musical paths

Chicago Tribune

Whether Nicholas McGegan — or anyone else, for that matter — can succeed in rescuing the music of Johann Nepomuk Hummel from obscurity is highly debatable. But, as the guest conductor demonstrated Thursday night in his refreshingly offbeat program with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, there are a few pieces by the Austrian composer that warrant an occasional hearing.

As part of his sampler of smaller-scaled works from the Baroque to the early Romantic eras, McGegan included Hummel’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. Dating from 1816, this second of nine concertos he wrote for piano sounds like a cross between Mendelssohn and Chopin, combining lyrical charm with brilliance.

Hummel was a far less inspired composer, but he must have been some virtuoso to be able to toss off the cascading runs, leaping intervals and rapid hand-crossings that give the work its beguiling surface.

Stewart Goodyear, the gifted young Canadian soloist, clearly has the chops to make you appreciate its modest merits.

He sped across the keyboard like a dervish in perpetual motion. The chiseled clarity of his articulations was something to behold, while his lyrical tenderness in the central Larghetto showed a remarkable sensibility. McGegan and the CSO followed him as attentively as the rest of us, and the audience rewarded Goodyear with a noisy, well-deserved ovation.

The rest of McGegan’s chamber-orchestra fare consisted of major pieces by great composers that don’t turn up very often at the CSO’s downtown concerts.

His readings of Mozart’s compact Symphony No. 33 and a jolly suite from Henry Purcell’s “King Arthur” were full of vitality and character, the latter prefaced by a droll spoken introduction. Handel’s Concerto Grosso Opus 6, No. 6, capitalized on the airy grace of the string ensemble, the concertino set in subtle relief against the larger ripieno (main) group.

The CSO musicians seem to enjoy playing for McGegan, and their enjoyment was evident from their crisply engaged performances.