One of the ways in which Music Director Nicholas McGegan has made his programming for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra particularly interesting has been by injecting occasional ventures into the nineteenth century during each of the ensemble’s seasons. At the end of this month, McGegan will continue that practice by concluding his 30th season as Music Director (and Philharmonia Baroque’s 35th anniversary season) with a program shared by Ludwig van Beethoven and Felix Mendelssohn. Both composers will be represented, for the most part, by works that are seldom encountered in most concert programming.
Indeed, the only piece on the program likely to be familiar to most (if not all) of the audience will be the opening selection, Beethoven’s Opus 72a, the third of the overtures Beethoven composed for his only opera, written when he was still calling it Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe (Leonore, or the triumph of married love). It is hard to think of a conductor that has not given a performance of this overture at some time over the course of his/her career (both in concert and on recording), which should make it all the more interesting to see what McGegan will bring to this composition through his historically-informed background.
The remainder of the programming will be for chorus and orchestra and will feature the Philharmonia Chorale directed by Bruce Lamott. The Beethoven compositions were written approximately at the same time. The first of these will be the Opus 118 “Elegischer Gesang” (elegiac song), a setting of a single line of text by Ignaz Franz Castelli, composed in 1814 and originally scored for string quartet and four mixed voices. (See the score excerpt above.) This will be followed by “Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt” (calm sea and prosperous voyage), a one-movement cantata for chorus and orchestra setting two poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, composed in 1815 and dedicated to the poet.
The second half of the program will be devoted to a single Mendelssohn composition, his Opus 52 (second) symphony in B-flat major. Mendelssohn did not call this piece a symphony when he composed it in 1840. The number was only assigned when the score was published after his death, based on the fact that Mendelssohn had called his next (“Scottish”) symphony (Opus 56 in A minor) his third. Mendelssohn’s title of Opus 52 was “Lobgesang” (hymn of praise), to which he added the subtitle “A Symphony-Cantata on Words of the Holy Bible, for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra.” In what can be taken as a nod to Beethoven, this piece consists of three orchestra movements followed by a series of episodes in which the orchestra is joined by chorus and soloists. It is also worth noting that the overall duration is roughly on the same scale as Beethoven’s Opus 125 (ninth, “Choral”) symphony in D minor.
The Philharmonia Baroque performance may set a new record for the resources summoned to perform Mendelssohn’s Opus 52. Three guest choruses will participate, the San Francisco Conservatory Chamber Choir, directed by Ragnar Bohlin, the Stanford Chamber Chorale, directed by Steven Sano, and the Chamber Chorus of the University of California at Berkeley, directed by Marika Kuzma. Soprano Dominique Labelle, who has performed frequently with McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, will be one of the vocal soloists, joined by soprano Ashley Valentine and tenor Thomas Cooley.
The San Francisco performance of this concert will take place at Herbst Theatre (401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 28. Ticket prices are $25, $49, $71, $92, and $105. There is an event page for this concert on the Philharmonia Baroque Web site, as well as a Web page for purchasing tickets from City Box Office. City Box Office may also be reached by telephone at 415-392-4400.