INTERVIEWS


SF Classical Voice: Nicholas McGegan’s “Retirement” Would Exhaust a Gaggle of Young Conductors

“Nicholas McGegan, is launching his 34th and final season at the head of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, lighting 70 candles on Jan. 14, 2020.” sfcv.org

Classical MPR Interview: “New recording brings Rameau’s ‘Temple of Glory’ to life as originally envisioned”

“Four years after the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was formed, Nicholas McGegan was hired to be its first music director. 35 years later, he’s still finding ways to keep the musicians and the audience on their toes.

“We have a whole series of new music written for old instruments, so we have composers who come in and work with us to play music that’s fresh off the page, and that keeps our musicians on their toes. It gives them a chance actually to work with live composers, which normally we wouldn’t do. Normally we’re just good at working with the dead ones.” Read more at Classical MPR.

Interview: McGegan on Messiah

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is performing Handel’s Messiah over the weekend – in Wellington on Saturday and Palmerston North on Sunday.

Listen to the interview with Nic here.

OperaWire Interview: Reviving Rameau’s ‘Le Temple de la Gloire’

McGegan, who has been the music director of the orchestra, since 1985, has made numerous recordings with the organization, particularly of early works including Handel’s “Messiah,” “Dido and Aeneas,” and the concertos of Corelli, among many others.

But McGegan and his orchestra may have topped all those other notable efforts with its upcoming release of Rameau’s “Le Temple de la Gloire,” which the conductor noted featured the composer at the height of his powers. Read more at OperaWire.

Interview: “300 Years Of Handel’s ‘Water Music,’ With A Splash Of Politics”

“McGegan is marking the 300th anniversary of Water Music by conducting the piece at a dry dock in Hull, England, later this week. The political intrigue behind the music is no surprise.” Read more at npr.org.

Spreading the Gospel: Period Style for Modern Performers

“It isn’t easy to condense years of training in historically informed performance into just a few rehearsals with non-specialist players—and not everyone in the early-music world would care to attempt it. However, some eagerly accept the challenge. Nicholas McGegan, Jeanne Lamon, and Jeannette Sorrell are three prominent HIP musicians who balance their evangelical zeal for period style with realistic ideas about what can and cannot be accomplished in the context of an orchestra’s schedule and skill set. Their goals are similar, yet each takes a different approach to working with modern orchestras.” Read more at Early Music America.

SF Classical Voice: Philharmonia Baroque Goes for the Glory

“In the words of McGegan, “It’s extravagant, spectacular beyond description.”

The score that, he suggests, Rameau composed as if afflicted by “musical attention deficit syndrome” — more on that later — has played like a gorgeous soundtrack in McGegan’s dreams for nearly three decades. Years after John Shepard discovered the original 1745 manuscript in the archives of UC Berkeley’s Hargrove Music Library, Victor Gavenda, then a Ph.D. student, recommended the piece to McGegan.” Read more at sfcv.org.

Conductor Nicholas McGegan brings all-Mozart program to SLSO

“Nicholas McGegan, universally known as “Nic,” is one of the most delightful conductors ever to grace a podium. He’ll be in town next weekend for an all-Mozart program with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra — and at the Sheldon Concert Hall, where he’ll lead the Chamber Music Society of St. Louis in a concert called “If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it.” Read more at stltoday.com.

Conductor Nicholas McGegan seeks adventure through music — and food

“Being serenaded while you have a picnic is a tradition that goes back centuries. Classical music adds to the atmosphere and to the sense of occasion. It’s great for younger audiences who don’t want to sit bolt upright in a chair and be totally silent, like, “You will listen to this and have a miserable time. Put them outside on a blanket, give them an ice cream, and listen to the music.”

Interview by Amanda Rae. Read more at issuu.com.

McGegan conducts Sarasota Music Festival finale

Celebrated conductor Nic McGegan, who has been musical director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco for 30 years, knows it’s a lot more than just waving your arms around, and the real work in creating a performance happens in rehearsal. “It’s a bit like being a stage director, in a sense,” he said. “You have to cook up the performance. You have all these ingredients in the kitchen, and the conductor has to say, ‘I think that could make a very nice thing.” Read more at ticket.heraldtribune.com.

Nicholas McGegan on KDFC’s “State of the Arts”

“This week, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is giving the U.S. premiere of a work by Alessandro Scarlatti called The Glory of Spring…Philharmonia Baroque will bring The Glory of Spring to the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford on Wednesday, Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Friday, and to the First Congregational Church in Berkeley for their final performance on Saturday.” Read more and listen to the interview.

Nicholas McGegan: 30 Years and Counting with Philharmonia Baroque

Under “Nic’s” leadership, a five-year-old ensemble previously run by four ensemble musicians who conducted orchestra business in a spare bedroom in the back of soprano Judith Nelson’s house was transformed into one of the world’s most captivating period ensembles. Read more at San Francisco Classical Voice.

Juilliard Journal- “Nicholas McGegan: Conducting with a Twist”

“One of the world’s foremost Handel specialists (but also happy to conduct and perform contemporary music), McGegan chatted with The Journal about the advantages of working with students and this month’s eyebrow-raising Beethoven moment.” Read more at Juilliard.com.

The Leonard Lopate Show: Going Baroque with Conductor Nic McGegan

Conductor Nic McGegan discusses his 40 years in Baroque music, and his upcoming appearance at the Caramoor Music Festival, where he’ll conduct works by Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, working with the violinist Jennifer Koh. Read more and listen at WNYC.org.

McGegan Mark Morris Acis Interview

The choreographer Mark Morris calls the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra“the car that parks itself.” This week it pulls into Lincoln Center to perform two early Handel operas at the Mostly Mozart Festival: the English masque “Acis and Galatea,” fully choreographed with singers sharing the stage with dancers from the Mark Morris Dance Group, and a concert version of “Teseo,” a flamboyant castrato vehicle in which the composer merged elements of Italian and French Baroque style. At the steering wheel: Nicholas McGegan, the British conductor and Baroque music expert who has led this period-instrument ensemble for 29 years and, in the process, turned it into the pre-eminent early-music group on the West Coast. Read more at NY Times.

Q&A with St. Louis Symphony

Few conductors clearly enjoy their work as much as does Nicholas McGegan. The elfin Baroque specialist doesn’t return to lead the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra often enough, but it’s always guaranteed to be a concert well worth hearing when he does. His lone concert this season is a program built around Western classical music that takes on non-Western musical styles, by Haydn, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Carl Maria von Weber and Mozart.

What’s the focus of this concert? It has a sort of exotic theme of “East meets West.” There’s music “Alla turca,” with Turkish percussion. The Rameau is called “The gallant Indian,” with “The Dance of the Great Peace Pipe.”

Where did Rameau get his ideas? One of the things that’s quite fun about all this is that none of these composers actually experienced any of it first hand. It’s all sort of imaginary exotica. It’s not as though they’d been on a trip to Istanbul, or that Rameau spent time with the Huron Indians. The French thought the Huron were Noble Savages, uncorrupted by Western civilization, who could not possibly deceive — unlike French politicians.

The soloist is American violinist Stefan Jackiw, making his SLSO debut. He’s one of those talented violinists who come along once or twice every generation. I admire the hell out of him. He’s wonderful and great fun to work with.

Nicholas McGegan: Keeping Early Music Alive and Well

“When it comes to the focus on music from the pre-19th center epoch, the go-to visitor/educator/conductor has, for the past several years now, been early music specialist, Nicholas McGegan.”

“Mr. McGegan…was deep in the period music cause and movement before it was popular.”

Scene Magazine

“My job is to make a season to annoy everyone!”

Sounds of America
 



Susan Graham experiences Dido’s hard life with a lounge lizard

The mezzo-soprano and conductor Nicholas McGegan discuss the challenges of Henry Purcell’s opera.

By Chloe Veltman

Susan Graham and Nicholas McGegan have never collaborated before. But when they get together, the Texas-raised mezzo-soprano and British conductor behave like an old married couple. On a recent afternoon in Berkeley, the home base of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, a leading period performance ensemble that McGegan has directed for many years, the duo engaged in lively banter about their first artistic partnership — a six-concert California tour of works by the 17th century English composer Henry Purcell.

Graham is known as much for her pants roles in Baroque operas as for her championing of French and contemporary American song. Celebrating Purcell’s 350th birthday, the Baroque Orchestra’s “Passion of Dido” program features the versatile mezzo as the ill-fated heroine in “Dido and Aeneas” (1689). Joining Graham, McGegan, the orchestra and the Philharmonia Chorale are soloists William Berger, Cyndia Sieden, Céline Ricci, Jill Grove and Brian Thorsett.

Graham often performs in L.A, including headlining Los Angeles Opera’s 2006 production of Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea.” However, the singer’s visit Wednesday represents her first Disney Hall appearance. We caught up with Graham and McGegan during rehearsals to discuss, among other topics, the challenges of performing Purcell, Los Angeles music audiences and the correct way to pronounce “Purcell.”

You’ve known each other for years. What brings you together as collaborators now?

Susan Graham: I’ve always wanted to work with Nic. I’ve long been a fan of his musical aesthetic. I love this piece we’re doing together now.

Nicholas McGegan: And I always want to work with the best singers.

SG: Unfortunately, you got me instead.

NM: Ha-ha. Now you get to die six times on stage over the course of two weeks.

SG: I’m excited about that, as I don’t usually get to die — or get the guy.

NM: Usually you are the guy.

SG: That’s true. In “Rosenkavalier,” which I did recently at the Met, I am the guy.

What’s the significance of performing “Dido” on Purcell’s 350th birthday?

NM: It makes me wish the composer had lived to 50 instead of dying at 34. Apparently his wife locked him out one night when he was late back from the pub. He caught a cold, and that was the end of him.

SG: Mrs. Purcell was a serious lady.

NM: Yes. Mind you, I don’t think Mr. Purcell was a first-time offender. He wrote about 50 drinking songs, most of which are unprintable.

Why do people respond to “Dido” so strongly today?

NM: “Dido” moves from comedy to tragedy so fast. It achieves in just 50 minutes what it takes most other operas three of four hours to do.

SG: Purcell wrote “Dido” for students at a girls’ school in London. Is it true or apocryphal that he composed the piece as an admonition to the young ladies — as a warning to be wary of men, that they’ll break your heart and leave you to die?

NM: He mainly wrote it for money. But it’s true that Aeneas is an amazing lounge lizard.

How do you ensure that period performance is alive and vibrant?

NM: We don’t bring our treatises on stage. We simply focus on moving people. We’re entertainers. Certain academic ideas do matter. For example, if you’re going to perform a minuet, it helps to know how fast people danced minuets.

NM: Right. The period instrument thing is nice. But I’ve also performed “Dido” on modern instruments. I’ve even done it with Mark Morris dancing the role of Dido in a muumuu. It was quite beautiful.

SG: Morris is multitalented.

NM: But a femme fatale he is not.

SG: As much as he’d like to be.

Please talk about the work’s final famous aria — “When I Am Laid in Earth.” How do you make this aria your own, Susan?

SG: By the time this aria occurs, it sings itself. The song is so loaded with everything that has come before, yet its purity is its driving force. All I have to do is sing it true.

What are the biggest challenges in performing “Dido”?

SG: There’s no place to hide. You don’t have a raucous orchestra disguising your flaws. You have under an hour to tell a huge story. Capturing big emotions in a tight time frame is hard.

What do you think about the way in which Purcell sets the story to music?

SG: There’s so much truth to Purcell’s vocal writing. Take the part where Dido and Aeneas sing this incredible battle duet. They’re playing a game of one-upmanship. He cuts her down. Then she mocks him and calls him a “deceitful crocodile.”

NM: No one but Purcell would use the word “crocodile” in an opera. There really are only three composers who set the English language well — Purcell, Britten and Sullivan.

You’ve both been involved in notable recordings of this work before — Susan under the baton of Emanuelle Haïm and Nicholas with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. How do your past experiences inform your collaboration? 

NM: I’ve got a completely blank score for this one, and I’m going to start all over again.

SG: Me too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had videos thrust at me in rehearsal and been told: “Do it like her!” Invariably, she’s a foot shorter than I am and I have bigger feet, so this approach doesn’t work. You always go into a new project wondering what the maestro is going to expect. We’re just the hired help, after all.

NM: She said with a grin.

SG: Everyone works within the circumstances of the specific production. The dynamics are always different.

NM: In this run of “Dido,” Performance One will be radically different from Performance Six.

SG: Things will get trillier.

NM: And faster.

SG: The witches will become sillier.

Please tell us about the other works in the program.

NM: We’re interested in showing Purcell’s range as a sacred and secular composer. The concert includes the joyful sacred anthem, “O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song,” Chacony in G minor, a misfit but lovely instrumental piece, the heart-wrenching sacred lament written for eight-part choir and organ “Hear My Prayer, O Lord,” and music that Purcell wrote for the 1695 revival of Aphra Behn’s grisly play, “Abdelazer.” Today, Purcell’s incidental music is better known than Behn’s drama, in which nearly everyone dies apart from the person responsible for lowering the curtain at the end. Many people know the “Rondeau” because Britten used it in his “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

You’ve performed at Disney Hall before, Nicholas. But next Wednesday’s concert marks your premiere at the venue, Susan. What are your thoughts about the space?

SG: I’ve performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion many times. As I’ve pulled into the parking lot, I’ve had an eye on Disney Hall and thought to myself, “I want to sing there.” I hear the acoustic is spectacular. For a piece like “Dido.” where clarity is an asset, it will sound brilliant. I’m hoping the space will help us play with lots of colors and textures.

NM: Disney is one of the world’s great concert halls. It’s a big space, but because of the steep rake of the seating, the audience never feels far away. I’ve done chamber music at Disney, and it’s felt intimate. I’ve also conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic there, and we made a hell of a racket. The other great thing about the hall is the backstage area. It’s like a five-star hotel.

What do you think of L.A. audiences?

NM: I was recently in L.A. conducing an all-Mozart program at the Hollywood Bowl. I like Bowl audiences because they don’t behave like they’ve been recently starched.

SG: L.A. audiences aren’t afraid to be surprised. For example, they loved “The Coronation of Poppea.”

Please, can you settle the confusion about how to pronounce the composer’s name?

NM: For some reason, people often mispronounce Purcell’s name. It’s “PUR-cell.” It should rhyme with “rehEARsal”.

SG: It’s not supposed to rhyme with “DuraCELL” or “PurELL.”