PBO - Schumann
Richard Egarr conducts the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra | Credit: Frank Wing

During the “impossibly grand” football semi-finale last weekend, musicians too fought and excelled ... if to less attention and to more moderate compensation. SFCV is here to correct the attention deficit: 

“[Music Director] Richard [Egarr] is smack in the middle of pandemic hell. He was stuck in London for nine days, just went home to Amsterdam today, and is getting on a plane on Monday [Jan. 24] to New York, where we’re working with Juilliard’s J415 ensemble, followed by a side-by-side concert (PBO plus Richard plus Juilliard students) at Lincoln Center next Saturday [Jan. 29].

“Nuts? Yes. But not impossible when you have excellent health protocols and determination to push ahead.”

So confided/boasted Courtney Beck when I asked her about her organization’s crazy schedule. Was the executive director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale up in the air too?

Courtney Beck
“Got to be creative in these meshuggenah times,” says PBO Executive Director Courtney Beck | Credit: Frank Wing

“I’m in New York already,” Beck replied. “Band is flying from S.F. to New York on Monday; Egarr is flying from Amsterdam to New York on the same day. Chorale was supposed to come too but had to cut them because of COVID. We’ll do B Minor Mass highlights at Lincoln Center and then the whole megillah in three Bay Area performances with starry cast.”

It was that “whole megillah” that drew attention to PBO this time in program plans just released, ambitious activity that has characterized the small but world-renowned organization for decades since the beginning of Music Director Laureate Nicholas McGegan’s active leadership in 1985.

Those plans include:

– Egarr, who has been on the faculty of The Juilliard School’s historical performance division since 2011, leading the sixth year of PBO musicians teaching and training students before performing together with them.

– Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Feb. 2–5 (at Bing Concert Hall, Herbst Theatre, and Berkeley’s First Congregational Church), with soprano Mary Bevan, countertenor Iestyn Davies, tenor James Gilchrist, and baritone Roderick Williams.

– An all-Mozart program, Feb. 10–13 (Herbst Theatre, Palo Alto’s First United Methodist Church, two performances in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church), with Elizabeth Watts singing concert arias and Egarr conducting Symphony No. 38 (“Prague”), K. 504, and soloing in the Concerto for Fortepiano No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491.

– The long-planned Philharmonia Gala has been postponed to April 4, featuring countertenor Iestyn Davies, Creative Partner Davóne Tines, violinist Rachel Podger, and others.

Iestyn Davies
Countertenor Iestyn Davies will sing with PBO in the Bach B Minor Mass and at the gala | Credit: Chris Sorensen/Courtesy Iestyn Davies

So, after more than 100 virtual programs during the pandemic, and resuming live concerts as early as last June, including a tour to New York in July, PBO is working on the “new normalcy,” however difficult 2022 still remains. Beck explains:

“Jan. 3 should have been the happiest day of 2022 — the first official day of the year. Instead we spent the next two weeks unraveling our gala set for Feb. 4 and dealing with the New York trip and the B Minor Mass scheduled for the next few weeks,

Elizabeth Watts - CD
Elizabeth Watts is featured in PBO’s all-Mozart concerts

“We spent hours debating whether we could make it to Lincoln Center for the full B Minor with the Philharmonia Chorale. After days and days of work with the players committee of the Orchestra and dialogue with the Chorale, Omicron made the painful decision for us. We would proceed with the tour but without the Chorale and present highlights in a side-by-side with Juilliard and arias presented by Juilliard vocal students.

“We worked tirelessly with Juilliard so we could keep in place our week of education at the conservatory — ensemble coaching, masterclasses, etc., with Richard and our orchestra musicians. Finally, we patchworked our tour to Lincoln Center, we turned our gala date from highlights to the full mass on Feb 4. (when the gala was scheduled); we retained the other two B Minor concerts on Feb. 2 and 5.

“We turned our gala inside out and immediately rescheduled for April 4, dovetailing with our operatic production of Handel’s Radamisto. It’s been as chaotic as ever, feeling much like March 2020. The difference is that we’ve become expert in instant scenario planning and change of direction. We’re saying when life gives you lemons or Omicron, get creative … again. 

“I’m incredibly proud of the board, staff, and musicians for committing to continuous creativity. PBO is nimble and able to respond immediately. Yes, it’s ridiculously hard and exhausting, but we have a winning recipe, one that can constantly adapt.”