New Season From Philharmonia Baroque Features Another Fully Staged Opera

Michael Zwiebach on February 26, 2019
Philharmonia Baroque | Credit: Susanne Karp

If there’s anything that Philharmonia Baroque has been able to do during Nicholas McGegan’s tenure, it has built enduring artistic partnerships. From Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who was lighting up the group’s Handel recordings in the 1990s to productions with the Mark Morris Dance Group to Richard Egarr, who will take over PBO’s music directorship after next season, the orchestra has managed to blend fidelity to historically informed performance practice with a loose sense of fun and imagination, as well as star soloists, commissioning new music for period instruments, opera performances, and more.

Nicholas McGegan | Credit: RJ Muna

The just-announced 2019–2020 season, McGegan’s last as music director, is a combination of all of these. It opens with another commissioned work from Caroline Shaw, a composer whose interest in Baroque forms suggests why the orchestra finds it so easy to work with her. Her three-song cycle for Anne Sophie von Otter was one of the first PBO commissions, and The Listeners is, according to the orchestra’s press announcement, more ambitious; it stars Shaw’s fellow Roomful of Teeth singer, baritone Dashon Burton, and contralto Avery Amereau.

Jeannette Sorrell, founder/music director of acclaimed early music orchestra Apollo’s Fire, returns in November with a program tracing Mozart’s composing career from beginning to end. The overview includes oboist extraordinaire Gonzalo X Ruiz soloing in the Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 314/ 285d.

McGegan is on the podium again for December’s holiday concerts, with the orchestra revisiting a McGegan favorite, Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, featuring another PBO favorite soloist, tenor Nicholas Phan. And then, in January, PBO brings its acclaimed production of Handel’s Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo (the earlier Italian version of Acis and Galatea), created in conjunction with National Sawdust last year. The casting is, as usual for PBO, deluxe but unbounded by the usual “early music” fach: Anthony Roth Costanzo as Aci, Lauren Snouffer as Galatea, and Davóne Tines as Polifemo, in a production directed by Christopher Alden.

Egarr | Credit: Marco Borggreve

Egarr shows up in March for his first performances as Music Director Designate in an all-Bach program featuring the “Coffee Cantata” and two harpsichord concertos, with Egarr as soloist. March also sees the return of Alana Youssefian, winner of Juilliard’s 2017 Historical Performance Concerto Competition and soloist in last November’s Vivaldi program. Youssefian assays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Major, in a program that includes Luigi Cherubini’s overture to Démophoon and Franz Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

The season ends in April with another fully staged French Baroque opera, Jean-Marie Leclair’s tragedie en musique Scylla et Glaucus. The production team and two of the stars are the same as in PBO’s landmark performance of Rameau’s Temple de la Gloire: soprano Véronique Gens makes her Bay Area debut as the sea witch Circé, while Chantal Santon-Jeffery plays Scylla, and “haute-contre” Aaron Sheehan sings Glaucus. At the behest of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (see our recent article), the entire production transfers to the Royal Opera House at the Palace of Versailles in late April.

Vêronique Gens makes her Bay Area debut as Circé in tragedie en musique Scylla et Glaucus | Credit: Franck Juery

PBO Sessions returns with Richard Egarr leading a 90-minute dive into the informal side of J.S. Bach. PBO’s Jews & Music scholar Francesco Spagnolo returns in March for an exploration of Mendelssohn and 19th-century Germany. PBO’s ongoing Jews & Music Initiative, launched in 2015, investigates Jewish historical contexts that inform music-making from the 17th through the 21st centuries.

And if that’s not enough, McGegan takes the PBO Chamber Players and marvelous soprano Sherezade Panthaki to Livermore and Carmel with a concert called Music of Shakespeare, featuring music by Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, Thomas Arne, and more. Even after more than 35 seasons together, PBO and Nic McGegan are not resting on their laurels.