Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale

Mezzo-soprano Celeste Winant, a singer with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) and a member of the choir’s union organizing committee, says about Philharmonia Chorale’s unanimous vote, 34 to zero, last week to join the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA):

“Our main motivation in forming a union and seeking representation from AGMA is that we wanted a seat at the table. We feel that our needs as a workforce will be better recognized and realized through the process of collective bargaining.

“This move gives us greater parity in process with our colleagues in the orchestra [who have been with American Federation of Musicians Local 6 for over 25 years], allowing us to better work in tandem with them and with management. Our union allows us to more effectively exercise our collective voice and helps us be a stronger and more effective partner in the future of PBO.”

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale
Richard Egarr conducts Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale | Credit: Frank Wing

Representing the instrumentalists, Noah Strick, chair of the PBO players’ committee, says:

“The players’ committee fully supports our fellow musicians in the PBO Chorale and their efforts to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. For many years, Philharmonia’s instrumentalists have benefited from the protections our collective bargaining agreement provides, so it’s only natural that our singer colleagues would want similar protections extended to them as well.

“We will continue to support the Chorale, as well as collaborate with PBO’s staff, board members, and Interim Executive Director Sharon Dolan as we embark on the search to find our next music director.”

From the management side, PBO General Manager Isaac Bunch tells SF Classical Voice: “We look forward to meeting with AGMA representatives as we begin the collective bargaining process.”

Considering that PBO’s executive director departed last year and Music Director Richard Egarr will leave at the end of this season, change and uncertainty is in the air.

Richard Egarr
Richard Egarr | Credit: Marco Borggreve

Bunch reaffirms the situation at the organization:

“Richard Egarr will remain Philharmonia’s music director through the end of the 2023–2024 season. More information about possible successors will be included as part of our 2024–2025 season announcement later this year.

“The pool of innovative artists in historically informed performance continues to grow broader and deeper with each passing year. We are thrilled at the possibilities before us as we consider Philharmonia’s next music director.”

Bunch also says that Dolan will remain interim executive director until the position is permanently filled.

No official word is available about the selection process for music director, but SFCV’s sources suggest each candidate will lead a concert set next season, with musicians, management, and the PBO board all given the opportunity to provide feedback in a collaborative process. Ultimately, the board holds the primary managing responsibility and final decision-making power.

Nicholas McGegan
Nicholas McGegan | Credit: Laura Barisonzi

Meanwhile, a key figure in PBO’s history, Music Director Laureate Nicholas McGegan, who led the orchestra for 35 years, arriving soon after Laurette Goldberg founded the ensemble — which would become the largest of its kind in the U.S. — and conducting more than 1,000 concerts, is apparently not part of the organization’s present or future.

He tells SF Classical Voice: “I am keeping nicely busy in my post-PBO life. The Cantata Collective gives me a couple of concerts a year in the Bay Area, several of which are recorded for CD distribution.

“Last year we issued the St. John Passion, and the B-Minor Mass will be out this spring. My next concert with them will be on Bach’s birthday.

“Otherwise, I am happily being a guest conductor both for concerts and opera in the U.S. and Europe. I am preparing for my 75th birthday year, which will be 2025 and promises to be a busy one.”

In decades past, PBO was part of some spectacular productions, such as Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Le temple de la Gloire and many other collaborations at Cal Performances. The ensemble defied the pandemic and has covered music well beyond the Baroque.

The remaining performances in the 2023–2024 season, led by Egarr, are “Double Espresso” (Feb. 1–3), “Coffee & Cake” (March 6–8), and “Romantic Radiance” (April 11–13).