September 29, 2009

Learn more about our October concerts

"The Concerto — An Adversarial Friendship," Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's second concert of its 2009-10 "Season of the Stars," is less than two weeks away! Period violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch (pictured left) will be leading our orchestra in a program of Baroque pieces both familiar and "new." San Francisco Classical Voice previewed the concert in today's enewsletter:
"Amid the glamour and glitz of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s’s 2009-2010 season, the ensemble’s October concert set “The Concerto: An Adversarial Friendship” may draw more headlines for its guest leader (the dynamic violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch) than its repertory, comprising mostly less-familiar German figures (Muffat, Biber, Schmelzer). But dig deeper into the program, performed Oct. 9-17 in various Bay Area locales, and you’ll find some flashy selections and intriguing backstories to this highly engaging repertory." Read more of Joseph Sargent's preview.
To learn more about this concert, click the links below:

You can also listen to movements of works by Muffat and Schmelzer on October's concert page. Hint: when you click on "Learn more about these recordings," you can read about these works!

An don't forget: 45-minutes before every concert we offer free lectures to our ticket holders.

September 17, 2009

Behind the scenes of "Apotheosis of the Dance:" Open Rehearsal

Did you see our 29th Season Premier concerts this week or last? Did you wonder "how DO they DO that?" Well, the orchestra studied and practiced of course! Now have a look for yourself – here are pictures from our recent open rehearsal. Photos by Zoe Cohen.

Steven Isserlis rehearses Haydn's Violoncello Concerto in C.

Nicholas McGegan conducts.

Rehearsing Haydn's Violoncello Concerto.

Sometimes, it's not all hard work.

Practice makes perfect.

Oh, by the way, check out our brand new toy:
flickr. Become our friend or send us your own PBO related photos!

"We raised the roof:" Nic talks about conducting Messiah at BBC Proms

Nicholas McGegan just returned from England in time to conduct PBO's 29th Season premier last week. What was he doing in his home country? We'll let him explain:

"I’m just back from a month of conducting in Europe, which ended with a performance of Messiah at London’s Promenade Concerts, featuring a large chorus comprising several youth choirs from across the United Kingdom.

"Conducting in the Royal Albert Hall is a unique situation – it is a vast, awe-inspiring space. And then, to have 300 kids singing, it fills the hall. The RAH has great acoustics, so you can play or sing very very softly OR raise the roof. We raised the roof at the end, using their titanic organ with a 64-foot pipe, and that was amazing.

"The other thing that is great about performing at the London Proms is that it contradicts the notion that classical music is only for the rich. Anyone can get in, with tickets as low as $5.00 for standing room on the floor (standing room at the Proms is right in front of the stage, not at the very back of the hall). And anyone can listen for free on the radio or the web, live and for a week afterwards. It is less exclusive, and cheaper, than a baseball game. Messiah was sold out, weeks in advance of the performance, and it was an unforgettable experience."

Read the reviews:

September 14, 2009

Things we are thankful for: Haydn's string quartets

David Wilson joins us again to explain why Haydn is so important to so many of our musicians:

Musicians have been known to describe playing chamber music as “The most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Read on to find out why.

Chamber music is a collaborative effort. A collaborative approach isn’t terribly practical when there are even as few as 25 or 30 players involved. In its earliest days, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was a conductorless, collaborative entity, and PBO players who remember those days observe that while the process of arriving at musical consensus in an orchestral context was musically formative for them, it was definitely NOT an efficient way to prepare for a concert. But collaboration is at the root of what makes playing chamber music so much fun. The process of discussing how a phrase should be shaped, of trying out different ideas and weighing their merits, even the sometimes-heated musical arguments among highly experienced and highly opinionated musicians, are in the end intensely satisfying.

Many musicians see the string quartet as the ideal chamber ensemble: four players make a very manageable yet extremely versatile combination, and four instruments in the same “family” have a great deal of built-in compatibility. Despite the fact that Haydn quartets are chronologically at the very beginning of the string quartet repertoire, they are among the most musically fascinating quartets to rehearse and perform. Perfectly crafted in terms of form and balance, they’re also charming, accessible, witty, profound, technically demanding, and above all conversational. In short, they’re everything that a chamber musician lives for. No wonder at all that Haydn quartets are adored by players and audiences alike.

September 9, 2009

More about the composer known for his wit

Joseph Haydn's death has oft been commemorated in the past, you may remember the old Goons skit:

Spike Milligan: "Here. In the piano"

PS "What the devil are you doing in there?"
SM: "I'm hidin'"

PS: "Don't be silly, Haydn's been dead for years."
SM: "Silence! I don't wish to know that!"

PS: "Neither do I."

David Wilson joins us again with a short biography of the Austrian composer who spent too much time in England and who probably would have found that skit funny:

Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau, Austria, which is roughly between Vienna and Bratislava. When he was seven years old, Haydn was recruited to join the choir at St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna by the director, Georg Reutter. As a St. Stephen’s choirboy, he would have spent a great deal of time rehearsing and performing music, in addition to studying voice, harpsichord, and violin; this proved to the foundation of his musical education. Reutter encouraged him to improvise ornaments in the pieces he was performing and gave him suggestions about what worked and what didn’t, which led to the idea of composing pieces of his own.

Haydn had such a beautiful boy soprano voice that Reutter suggested that he be made a castrato—in other words, surgically castrated so that his high-pitched voice would be preserved as he matured. His father flatly refused to allow it, however, and when Haydn’s voice began to change he was dismissed from the choir. Haydn left with injured pride, but otherwise intact.

After leaving St. Stephen’s, he spent several years working as a teacher and free-lance musician in Vienna, and taking composition lessons with composer Nicola Porpora. In 1757 Haydn got his first regular job as a musician, as music director for Count Karl Joseph Franz Morzin. He wrote his first symphony when he was Morzin’s director. By 1761, he had been hired by the Esterházy court; the Esterházy family was rich and influential, and Haydn worked for them for almost 30 years.

Learn more about PBO's September concert set that commemorates the life and works of Haydn.

Gone but not forgotten: Commemorating Haydn

PBO staffer and musician David Wilson guest blogs this week. Here is the first installment of three blogs about Franz Joseph Haydn:

The year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). A much-loved and highly influential composer, Haydn was born in the Baroque period, wrote primarily in a Classical style, and ultimately helped point the way to Romanticism.

Haydn biographer James Webster writes, “Haydn’s character was marked by a duality between earnestness and humour,” and the same can be said of his music. He was fortunate enough to have a job which allowed him to be musically innovative and to experiment without having to worry about getting bad reviews or getting fired, to indulge his imagination and his moods in his music. He is called the “father of the symphony,” and while this nickname is not entirely accurate, his 106 symphonic works are musically brilliant and did a great deal to define the genre. It would be more accurate to call Haydn “the father of the string quartet,” a genre he pioneered and which became a cornerstone of chamber music writing.

Webster writes, “Haydn’s public life exemplified the Enlightenment ideal of the honnête homme: the man whose good character and worldly success enable and justify each other.” Although he is often remembered for his clever and witty music, Haydn’s goal was to move the listener, and his music is as often profound as it is witty. An audience member at the first performance of his oratorio The Creation wrote, “In that moment when Light broke forth for the first time, one would have said that light-rays darted from the composer’s blazing eyes. The enchantment of the electrified Viennese was so profound that the performers could not proceed for some minutes.”

September 3, 2009

Hear McGegan conduct Messiah at the BBC Proms live!

The commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death reaches its climax at the Proms with a large-scale performance of Messiah. Nicholas McGegan conducts the Northern Sinfonia and a unique massed chorus of over 200 young voices from around the UK. Hear this performance live on Sunday, September 6, and again on demand for the next 7 days. Click here to stream the broadcast on BBC 3.

Handel’s Messiah

Dominique Labelle,
Patricia Bardon,
John Mark Ainsley,
Matthew Rose,

City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus
Halle Youth Choir
National Youth Choir of Great Britain
National Youth Choir of Wales
Quay Voices (The Sage Gateshead)
RSCM Millennium Youth Choir
Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir

Northern Sinfonia
Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Go behind the curtain and in the orchestra pit with David Tayler for a sneak peak at Orlando

David Tayler, lute, archlute, theorbo and guitar player, just sent these photographs to us from London. He and many of our musicians have been traveling through Europe with Nic and the FestspielOrchester Göttingen performing the Handel's Orlando in Sweden and Handel's Admeto, re di Tessaglia in Scotland. PBO will perform Orlando in concert with the Göttingen cast in April 2010! Enjoy these photos from Sweden!

More pictures here and here.