February 23, 2010

How's your Catalan?

TV3 (Televisió de Catalunya) has posted its full documentary about Jordi Savall and the Borgia Dynasty. Jordi will conduct the orchestra and perform viola da gamba next week!

As staffer David Challinor wrote when he alerted us to the documentary:

"My Catalan is non-existent, but this is fascinating. It shows rehearsals in the castle he records in and him working on the Borja family project that will probably be the next release after Le Royaume Oublie (The Albigensian Crusade)."

The full description (translated into English) and the video are posted below. If your French is better than your Catalan, here are some clips from Sur France3's Culturebox.

"For the first time in a documentary, Jordi Savall discusses his music and his craft. Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of St. Francis Borgia, fourth Duke of Gandia, the documentary follows Savall and his closest collaborators as they research the Borgia dynasty and try to recreate the music from during the family's reign, from Pope Alexander VI and his children, Cesare and Lucrezia, as far as Francis Borgia, the Jesuit priest who may have also been a songwriter."

February 17, 2010

What did you think about our Brahms concert?

The reviews are in and boy are they mixed.

Music director Nicholas McGegan prefaced the concert with a few words about the attempts at the historical accuracy on display... All very interesting, but the real test came in performance. And nothing affirmed the power of this approach like the splendid performance of the Serenade No. 1 in D that occupied the first half of the program... Avoiding the sleek, sometimes impersonal quality that can often seep into modern renditions, [McGegan] embraced every opportunity to give the music a musky physicality - especially in the outer movements, whose rhythmic force was arresting.
However, Rich Scheinen wrote:
Were Johannes Brahms alive to coach today's players, what instructions would he give them? How would he want his music to sound? Not the way it sounded Thursday, when conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra unveiled their much-ballyhooed all-Brahms program... It was one strange concert, beginning with an almost stupendously inept performance of Brahms' infrequently played Serenade No. 1 in D major... At its base line, the concert was plain uncomfortable... The orchestra sounded like a country band, raucously out of tune, with broadly sliding strings and elephantine mishaps in the winds and horns.
Both Michelle Dulak Thomson and Stephen Smoliar wrote insightful commentary on our little experiment.

However, the purpose of this blog is to ask: What did you think? Post your comments here or on Yelp.com.

Did we do Brahms tribute or detriment?

February 10, 2010

Nic on performing Brahms: Pt. 5

Nic is back for his final post! Want to learn more about performing Brahms on period instruments? Listen to our audio preview, featuring Nic, string player Maria Caswell and host Teddy Wing. Now, here is Nic on orchestra arrangement – you may be surprised to see where your favorite musicians are sitting at our upcoming concerts:

Orchestra size and arrangement –

In Brahms’ time, as in earlier periods, the size of orchestras varied widely. Brahms himself seems to have preferred intimate halls with relatively small forces. The Meiningen orchestra had 48 members and the orchestra in Karlsruhe, which gave the first performance of the 1st Symphony, had 49 members. The string count was 9 first violins, 9 second violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, and 4 basses.

Many German orchestras continued to perform concerts standing. In 1893, one of the members of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was quoted as saying: “In the Gewandhaus we are wholly different people than in the theatre; in a black dress coat and standing erect at the desk…a different higher spirit dominates us.” The Meiningen orchestra under von Bülow (with the young Richard Strauss as his assistant) also played standing. The orchestra will probably sit, since we’ll be playing a substantial concerto, but it might be interesting to try it out.

Georg Henschel, when he took charge of the newly founded Boston Symphony in 1881, sent Brahms a couple of seating plans for his approval. Here is the one the composer favoured, the one the orchestra will be giving a try:

Thank you for reading, I hope that you will enjoy our concerts. For further reading, I recommend the following books:
  • Brown, Clive. 1999. Classical and Romantic Performance Practice 1750-1900. Oxford University Press.
  • Haynes, Bruce. 2002. A History of Performing Pitch (The Story of “A”). Scarecrow Press.
  • Lawson, Colin, and Robin Stowell. 1999. The Historical Performance of Music, an Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
  • Musgrave, Michael, and Bernard D. Sherman. 2003. Performing Brahms. Cambridge University Press.

February 9, 2010

Announcing 2010-11 – Our 30th Anniversary Season

Today, we announced our 30th Anniversary Season!

Current subscribers can renew their subscriptions now! General public subscriptions go on sale March 15th! Single tickets go on sale August 5th. Keep checking our website, more information will be up in the coming weeks. If you can't wait... you can always join us this weekend for Brahms (just in time for Valentine's)!

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale's
2010-11 Season
* – Philharmonia Baroque premiere
† – Philharmonia Baroque debut

September – Robert Levin plays Mozart
Friday 24 September Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 25 September First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 26 September First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 28 September Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton
Wednesday 29 September Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Robert Levin, fortepiano (below)

Incidental Music from Thamos, King of Egypt *
Concerto for Fortepiano No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 *
Fragments of newly found works for Fortepiano and Orchestra (U.S. Premiere)
Symphony No. 41 in C major, KV 551 “Jupiter” (Last performed by Philharmonia Baroque on March 2001)

October – Bach’s Wedding Cantata
Friday 15 October Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 16 October First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 17 October First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 19 October Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton

Lars Ulrik Mortensen, conductor and harpsichord (below) †
Maria Keohane, soprano †

Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066
Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor, BWV 1052
Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten,” Wedding Cantata, BWV 202 (February 1982 – Philharmonia Baroque’s first public concert)
Concerto for Harpsichord in D major, BWV 1054

November – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
Friday 5 November Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 6 November First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 7 November First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 9 November Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton
Wednesday 10 November Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin (concertmaster)

VIVALDI The Four Seasons, Op. 8, Nos. 1-4 (March 1991)
CORELLI Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 11 in B-flat major
PERGOLESI Sinfonia in F major *
DURANTE Concerto No. 5 in A major *
ZAVATERI Concerto decimo a Pastorale, Op. 1 *

December – Handel’s Messiah
Friday 3 December Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 4 December First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 5 December First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 7 December Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Daniel Taylor, countertenor
John McVeigh, tenor
Tyler Duncan, bass †
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director
TBA soprano

HANDEL Messiah (December 2002)

January – David Daniels
Saturday 15 January First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 16 January First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 18 January Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton
Friday 21 January Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
David Daniels, countertenor (below)

VIVALDI Stabat mater, RV 621 *
HANDEL Arias from Giulio Cesare
TELEMANN Suite in F major, TWV 55:F11 “Alster Overture” *

February – Hummel’s Concerto for Keyed Trumpet
Friday 11 February Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 12 February First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 13 February First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 15 February Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Gabriele Cassone, keyed trumpet (below)†

SPOHR Symphony No. 2 in D minor, Op. 49 *
HUMMEL Concerto for Keyed Trumpet in E major *
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11 *

March – Flicka!
Friday 4 March Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 5 March First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 6 March First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 8 March Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton
Wednesday 9 March Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano (below)†

REBEL Les Caractères de la danse *
Nathaniel STOOKEY Into the Bright Lights (poetry by Flicka) (U.S. Premiere)
RAMEAU Les Indes galantes suite d’orchestre

April – Haydn’s Creation
Friday 8 April Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Saturday 9 April First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Sunday 10 April First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tuesday 12 April Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, Atherton
Wednesday 13 April Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Dominique Labelle, soprano
Thomas Cooley, tenor
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director

HAYDN The Creation (April 1994)

Celebrating 30 Years of Inspired Sound
When Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of the West played the first notes of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Wedding Cantata at Herbst Theatre on February 4, 1982, no one guessed what the future would hold. At the time, just having formed the first period instrument ensemble on the West Coast was a feat in itself. By the mid-1970s, a small community of musicians and craftsmen had converged on the Bay Area, all inspired by a countercultural phenomenon: the early music movement. It was not until a fateful moment in 1977 that the true power of this rediscovered period of music was realized at a summer camp on the Russian River—a roomful of these musicians played together as an ensemble, on period instruments, for the very first time. They produced a sound so full of life, expression, exuberance, clarity and subtlety that it seemed to vibrate from the hearts and minds of the composers.

The moment was so moving, so unique, that one musician—Laurette Goldberg—became obsessed with creating an orchestra that would be able to recreate the richness, brilliance, flexibility and articulation that the composers of the Baroque and early Classical periods intended. Laurette spent five years bringing together a group of people who would support the musicians who became Philharmonia Baroque. At thetime, her ideas were radical—a chamber orchestra, Baroque and early-Classical repertoire, period instruments, but her desire was not—to create something meaningful, affecting, transcendent.

Since the very beginning, Philharmonia Baroque has been about the love of a sound—a sound, once heard, that changes once and for all the way we want to experience music, whether on stage or in the audience. This inspiration has guided Philharmonia Baroque from the start, and the organization’s ultimate goal has remained constant since its inception 30 years ago: we want our music to delight, to inspire and to educate—to increase the level of beauty, sensitivity and joy in a complex world.

We hope to see you this season and next!

February 8, 2010

Tomorrow's the day...

Keep an eye on the blog tomorrow... we'll be announcing our programming for 2010-11, our 30th Season!!!

Our staff was busy all Friday getting subscription renewals into the mail...

Want another hint? The orchestra and chorale will be performing a work that Nic is well known internationally for, but he has not conducted it in the Bay Area for 11 years... What is it?

Nic on performing Brahms: Pt. 4

Nic continues his post about the style that the orchestra will perform Brahms in this week:

Tempo –

Brahms was notoriously metronome-averse, so neither of the pieces that we will be playing are provided with metronome markings. Joachim, however, had no such qualms, and his edition of the Violin Concerto (1910) does have them. In the German edition of Joachim’s Violinschule (1905), which contains the violin part of the concerto, there are faster markings than in the 1910 edition; those are given here in parenthesis. They are:

Mvt. 1. Quarter note =120 (126).

Mvt. 2 Eighth note = 72

Mvt. 3 Quarter note = 96 (104). Poco più presto, Quarter note = 120 (132)

These however are not to be thought of as tempi that apply to a complete movement. There is plenty of evidence to show that Brahms, like many of his time, preferred a very flexible approach to speed. The orchestra will try this, at least in the Serenade. There is a wide variation in the overall timings of some Brahms’ Symphonies from one performance to another. For example, Symphony No. 1 was performed in 37 minutes by Hans von Bülow and the Meiningen Orchestra in 1884, compared to Carlo Maria Giulini and the L.A. Philharmonic in 1981 at slightly over 49 minutes.

Pitch –

We will be tuning to A-440. When touring, Richard Mühlfeld would send a tuning fork ahead to the next venue so that the piano could be tuned to the right pitch. His fork was at A-440. This was, however, by no means the universal pitch at the time. ‘Pitch battles’ were fought all over Europe between instrumentalists, who favoured a higher pitch, and opera companies, whose singers tried to keep the pitch lower. Often such a war would go on within the same city as in London. Pitch could vary from somewhere in the 420’s to the mid 450’s. So 440 seems a reasonable compromise!

Phrasing –

Fritz Steinbach, the conductor of the Meiningen orchestra from 1886 to 1903, used to play the opening of Brahms’ Second Symphony with audible gaps between the slurs. He modelled his performance practice style on that of the composer. Such phrasing was also discussed in letters between Brahms and Joachim in 1879. See the marks below.

Stay tuned, Nic's final post will be about the most radical change for the orchestra this set: orchestra size and arrangement.

February 3, 2010

Nic on performing Brahms: Pt. 3

So we now know about how Nic researched contemporary performances of Brahms' work and we also know a little about the instruments that were likely used to play his works around the time they were composed. Let's find out about some of the smaller details about the style that Philharmonia Baroque musicians might be playing in in February:

Here are the first of a few thoughts I have about we may play Brahms in February:


We have the evidence of Joachim’s recordings that he perhaps used relatively little vibrato (the oscillation of pitch which instruments can produce to imitate the sound of human singing – learn more about wrist vibrato and arm vibrato). However, Fanny Davies, who heard him play the Third Piano Trio in 1887, noted that in one passage at least (marked espressivo) he used vibrato to great effect. On the other hand, as early as 1863, cellist David Popper was both praised and lampooned for his continuous vibrato. He played frequently with Brahms after 1886. Mühlfled also used vibrato on the clarinet. However, it is important to remember that these players were soloists and that orchestral players used much less, if any, vibrato. Indeed, the Vienna Philharmonic preserved an almost vibrato-less style until the Second World War. The orchestra will try to copy this with the exception of notes marked <>.


Already in 1811, composer Antonio Salieri complained of Viennese orchestral string players using portamenti (sliding from one pitch to another). One can hear in Joachim’s recordings that he employed portamento as a soloist. His own editions and his treatise on violin playing (Violinschule) contain many examples of this practice. Of special interest for our concert is his edition of the Brahms Violin Concerto, in which he provided fingerings throughout and indicated plenty of portamenti. Early orchestral recordings offer clear evidence of the widespread use of this embellishment. Be prepared for lots of them in our concert!

Flute treatises for the pre-Boehm flute have fingering charts for portamenti. The increasing amount of keywork on later instruments made it harder to glide from note to note, but John Clinton’s Flute Treatise (A Code of Instructions for the Fingering of the Equisonant Flute by the Inventor and Patentee, 1860) shows that the practice did continue into the second half of the 19th century. As he wrote himself: "This ornament is effected by gradually drawing or sliding the fingers off the holes, instead of raising them in the usual manner; by this means is obtained all the shades of sound between the notes, so that the performer may pass from one note to another, as it were, imperceptibly; it produces a pleasing effect, when sparingly used. It is denoted by the mark [shown above the notes above]. The fingers must be drawn off the holes in a line towards the palm of the hand; the employment of the crescendo with the glide heightens the effect."


Studies of the old orchestral material used by the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics show that more notes were played in one bow stroke than now. This means that the overall volume must have been less. The orchestra will try this. British audiences in the early part of the 20th century were astonished by the unanimity of bowing when they heard the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras for the first time.

Can't contain our excitement anymore...

What are we so excited about? These:

You're probably thinking: "What, the boxes?" Well, of course the boxes! Why? Because they contain all of the materials for our 30th Anniversary Season subscription renewal mailing. Keep an eye out, we're just six days away from announcing next season's programming!

Would you like a hint about what the orchestra and chorale might be performing? Here it is: Our musicians will perform, for only the second time in 30 years, the very first work that they played at their very first public concert. Can you guess what it is?