July 31, 2009

Tune in - Baroque tuning (and the title of this blog) explained

If you are not a musicologist, you might be wondering what A415 is as you read this blog. It's a little complicated, but we promise it won't hertz. Jeff Phillips, our Artistic Administrator, explains:

Readers of this blog may wonder to what our name refers. "A=415 Hz" is one of the first declarations any musician must endorse before performing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. "A" refers to the note, typically sounded before a rehearsal or concert, to which all instruments are tuned; in Baroque music Philharmonia musicians tune their A to 415 Hz or Hertz, which refers to the number of cycles per second. On a modern piano this pitch would sound like A-flat, or a half-step lower than usual.

Historically there were many different pitches to which groups of musicians tuned, based on local tradition or, in the Baroque era, to the pitch the local organ was set as it was impractical to tune otherwise. This pitch varied from about A=380 Hz to as high as A=480 Hz, based on surviving examples. In the nineteenth century it became clear that settling on a standard pitch across Europe would be a good idea--France even passed a law setting A=435 in 1859--but the standard "concert pitch" was finally set to A=440 only in the mid-1900s. While 440 is still the worldwide standard, among professional orchestras the pitch continued to rise to accommodate larger concert halls, with most settling on 442 or 445; a higher pitch is perceived as brighter, and therefore louder, by the listener.

Since period-instrument makers and musicians needed a pitch standard on which to settle, most period-instrument ensembles, Philharmonia included, use A=415 Hz as their pitch standard for Baroque music, since it's almost exactly a half-step lower than concert pitch. Harpsichords and organs are built with the ability to shift back and forth between pitches easily, strings sound a bit warmer, and singers are generally happier to be able to sing their high notes without strain.

The image is above is a page of George Frideric Handel’s autograph draft score of Messiah, 1741 (The Granger Collection, New York).

July 22, 2009

Passionate, not pretentious

Why a conductor? This was the question that a recent psychological study posed, the findings of which were published in the Psychology of Music journal this week. The study found that "the motives most strongly evoked were the ones linked with emotions and emotional needs."

And who was one of the 101 orchestral conductors surveyed, none other than PBO's Music Director Nicholas McGegan. Nic is frequently cited by critics and fans as one of the most exciting and passionate conductors in classical music. As Ron Hubbard of the Pioneer Press wrote this year (PDF), "There are few conductors who convey the ebullient enthusiasm of Nicholas McGegan.”

This is how Nic (pictured larger than life above) described his role as conductor: "Compared with, say, a virtuoso violinist, conductors are less concerned with the how of music and more concerned with the why — why the composer wrote it that way, and how best to share what you believe about that piece with the audience, through the orchestra."

Read more here.

July 21, 2009

PBO goes to boot camp

Last Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Peter and Sasha attended the National Arts Marketing Project's Boot Camp at the offices of the San Francisco Foundation. The goal of the two summer sessions is to help 25 Bay Area arts groups develop strong marketing plans that may be eligible for multi-year grant financing. Julie Peeler (above right), Vice President of Arts and Business Programs with Americans for the Arts, led many of the lectures that focused on situational research and analysis and objective setting – in other words, forcing the participants to ask the hard questions of: where are we and where are we going? Sasha will return in August for the second half of the program with Board Member and Marketing Committee Chairman Brian Gould.

PBO applied to this training and grant program because, after two years of declining season and single ticket sales, the staff and board are becoming more thoughtful and proactive about promoting the artistic product of this wonderful orchestra and chorale. This means that we will be asking for more input from our audience than ever before. Please take the time to comment on our blog posts, post reviews on Yelp!, and fill out our audience surveys.

More importantly, however, is to share PBO with your friends and family – invite them to a concert, mention us in passing, forward them an enewsletter, social bookmark this blog, or even "tweet" about us. You will always be a better marketer than anyone on staff. Thank you for your continued support!

When was the last time that you acted as an evangelist for PBO?

July 15, 2009

"Sex, drugs and baroque and roll"

Greg Mitchell wrote a piece today for The Huffington Post inspired by his experience listening to what he has dubbed "Ludwigstock" – the New York Philharmonic performing Beethoven's Symphony No.7 last night for free in Central Park to a rapt crowd of 100,000 people.

He muses about the future of classical music audiences through anecdotes from his own life:

"In fact, if you had told me two years ago that I would spend the morning of my 60th birthday – and the evening of my 25th wedding anniversary – with Ludwig van Beethoven, I would have laughed, or perhaps played a chord of "Wild Thing" on my guitar. After all, until that time, I did not know the difference between a cadenza and a concerto, an oboe and a bassoon. So how did this former rock 'n roll writer/editor become obsessed with Beethoven?"

Read the article here.

What about you? When and why did you develop a love of classical music?

July 14, 2009

Jordi Savall interviewed by The Guardian

Jordi Savall, who will be joining PBO in March to conduct the orchestra and play the viola da gamba, was featured by The Guardian last month for his new project The Celtic Viol, a collection of Scottish and Irish folk tunes.

Read the article here.

July 8, 2009

Nic signs on through 2016

Last month, PBO announced the renewal of Music Director Nicholas McGegan’s contract. He signed the document, which extends his tenure through the orchestra’s 2015-16 season, with Board President Paul Sugarman and Executive Director Peter Pastreich on June 16 before the Annual Meeting (pictured below). Nic has artistically led PBO for its last 23 seasons.

When PBO founder Laurette Goldberg discovered Nic in 1984 and approached him to replace her as music director, she noted that she was taking a risk on someone "whom nobody had hardly ever heard." Now, he is an internationally esteemed conductor, artistic director, scholar and musician. Besides his work with PBO, Nic is also the artistic director of the International Handel Festival, Göttingen, has teaching residencies at Juilliard and Yale, and guest conducts all over the world, including recent engagements with the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Highlights this summer include performances of Handel’s Admeto and Acis and Galatea at the Edinburgh International Festival and conducting the Northern Sinfonia in a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the BBC Proms with massed choirs from throughout Great Britain. Read San Francisco Classical Voice's March 2009 interview.

As Goldberg noted when she first met Nic almost 25 years ago, "The minute he opened his mouth, it took me thirty seconds to realize that this was the right person [to lead PBO]."

What is your favorite memory of Nic?

July 7, 2009

"What I did on my summer vacation..."

Ever wonder what your favorite musicians do during the summer while PBO is on hiatus? Keep reading...

In June, PBO musicians William Skeen (pictured left, photo from the Orange County Register), Elizabeth Blumenstock, John Thiessen, Ondine Young, Jolianne von Einem and Rob Diggins performed at the Corona del Mar Baroque Music Festival in Southern California. Read more about the festival here, here and here.

While in SoCal, spouses Skeen and Young performed with Musica Angelica and Bach Collegium San Diego, as well as caught a few beaches, parks, and museums with their children, Talia, 6, and Liam, 3 (pictured below riding a carousel in San Diego). They are now traveling up the coast to Monterey for the Carmel Bach Festival, then onwards to Whidbey Island Music Festival, and back to the Bay Area in August to prepare for PBO’s concerts, as well as a San Francisco Early Music Society series with their baroque ensemble La Monica.

This month, Blumenstock (pictured left at the Corona del Mar festival) will teach at PBO cellist Phoebe Carrai’s International Baroque Institute at Longy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In August, she will sneak a week of vacation before traveling to Drottningholm, Sweden, and Edinburgh, Scotland, to perform with the Internationale Händel-Festspiel Göttingen Orchestra, conducted by none other Nic McGegan. "It will be a blast to see the old Baroque theater and props in Drottningholm!" wrote Blumenstock in an email.

von Einem and her partner Diggins are busily organizing a new ensemble called Omnia Musica in preparations for a South East Asia tour in the spring of 2011. In conjunction with the Portland-based nonprofit FOLKWAYS INSTITUTE the ensemble will perform a mixed program of Baroque and Classical music and South Eastern Appalachian Mountain and Mississippi Delta music in Bhutan, Kathmandu, Kolkatta, New Delhi and Chennai.

In June, violinist and PBO staffer David Wilson (pictured left, photo by Lars Johannesson) traveled to Washington, DC to participate in a 5-day residency at the Smithsonian Institution with Lux Musica. The Santa Cruz-based ensemble collaborated with two musicians from Turkey, Neva Özgen, kemençe, and Murat Aydemir, tambur, to perform the music of Dimitrie Cantemir, who served both the Ottoman sultan and the Russian tsar at the turn of the 18th century. On the same trip, Wilson performed music of Henry Purcell and his contemporaries with Ensemble Vermillian at the Boston Early Music Festival.

Violist Maria Caswell lives in rural Sonoma County, so, during the summer, she spends most of her time outdoors, gardening and tending to animals. In the fall, the musicians will be plying her for jellies and jams (she cans applesauce, pears, peaches, nectarines, figs and any other fruit she can get her hands on). Her family recently vacationed at a cabin on Odell Lake in Oregon, spending most of the time boating (her daughter, Alena, is pictured below piloting the boat).

Have you gotten away this summer? Started a new project (musical or otherwise)? Let us know.

July 6, 2009

Welcome to A415

Welcome to Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's new blog, A415. This site will be frequently updated with news and information about the orchestra and its members, articles about early music and period instruments and anecdotes (music related and not) from staff, musicians, subscribers and fans.

We invite you to post comments and ask follow-up questions. So, what do you think of the new blog? What kinds of articles would like to see posted here over the coming season?