Performing a program of English works from the 17th century, we are excited to welcome back the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, one of America’s leading period-instrument ensembles. Using authentic instruments and stylistic conventions, the ensemble is now under the musical direction of Richard Egarr, who leads the group from the harpsichord. Joining them is British soprano and rising star Rowan Pierce.
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Richard Egarr, conductor and harpsichord
Rowan Pierce, soprano
Gibbons: Fantasy in A Minor
Blow: “Welcome, Welcome Every Guest” from Amphion Angelicus
Blow: “Peaceful is he and most secure”
Blow: “Lovely Selina”
Locke: Curtain Tune from The Tempest
Purcell: “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation”
Purcell: “Music for a while”
Purcell: “Bess of Bedlam”
Purcell: Chaconne from King Arthur
Purcell: Selections from The Fairy Queen
Richard Egarr, conductor
Richard Egarr brings a joyful sense of adventure and a keen, enquiring mind to all his music-making, whether conducting, directing from the keyboard, giving recitals, playing chamber-music, and indeed talking about music at every opportunity. Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music (AAM), Principal Guest of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, and Artistic Partner of the St Paul Chamber, Egarr begins as Music Director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in the 20/21 season, finishing with AAM in Summer 2021 after 15 years at the helm. He was Associate Artist with the Scottish Chamber 2011-2017, and has conducted many symphony orchestras such as London Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw and Philadelphia Orchestra. This season Egarr conducts repertoire ranging from Bach through Mozart, Dussek, Beethoven and Brahms to Rossini and Elgar, guesting with orchestras such as the St Louis Symphony, Luxembourg Philharmonic and City of Birmingham Symphony.
Early in his tenure with AAM Egarr established the Choir of the AAM; operas and particularly Handel’s oratorios lie at the heart of his repertoire. He made his Glyndebourne debut in 2007 conducting a staged version of St Matthew Passion. With AAM at the Barbican he has conducted Monteverdi and Purcell cycles, La Finta Giardiniera and (in 2019) Nozze di Figaro – the latter also at the Grange Festival.
He regularly gives solo harpsichord recitals at the Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall, and his extensive discography on Harmonia Mundi includes solo keyboard works by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Couperin, and latterly discs for Linn Records of Byrd and Sweelinck. His long list of recordings with the Academy of Ancient Music includes seven Handel discs (2007 Gramophone Award, 2009 MIDEM and Edison awards), and JS Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions. In 2019 AAM Records released a new edition under Richard’s supervision of Handel’s rarely performed Brockes Passion, to widespread praise.
Egarr trained as a choirboy at York Minster, at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, and as organ scholar at Clare College Cambridge. He taught for many years at the Amsterdam Conservatoire and is currently Visiting Professor at the Juilliard School.
Rowan Pierce, soprano
Yorkshire born soprano Rowan Pierce was awarded the President’s Award by HRH Prince of Wales at the Royal College of Music in 2017. She won both the Song Prize and First Prize at the inaugural Grange Festival International Singing Competition in 2017, the first Schubert Society Singer Prize in 2014 and the Van Someren Godfery Prize at the Royal Conservatory of Music. She was a Britten Pears young artist, a Rising Star of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and a Harewood Artist at English National Opera.
Pierce has appeared in concert throughout Europe and South America. She performs regularly with ensembles including the Academy of Ancient Music, Gabrieli Consort,Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and Royal Northern Sinfonia.
Pierce made her BBC Proms debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017 with the OAE and returned in 2019 for Handel Jephtha with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. She made her Wigmore Hall debut with the London Handel Players and returned with Florilegium in the 2019-20 season.
Other recent highlights include performances with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Freiburg Baroque, Gabrieli Consort, La Nuova Musica, Polyphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Early Opera Company, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Visits to the U.S. in 2019 included appearances at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center.
On the opera stage, Pierce has performed Drusilla in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Miss Wordsworth in Britten’s Albert Herring, and Princess in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, among many other major roles. In 2019 Pierce made her debut at the Buxton Festival in the role of Papiria in Lucio Papirio Dittatore by Caldara with La Serenissima; she also performed the roles of Quivera and Orazia in The Indian Queen with Opéra de Lille under Emmanuelle Haïm. Also in 2019, she appeared in the Edinburgh International Festival with the English Concert as Amore in Gluck’s Orfeo.
Her future engagements include various roles in performances of both Purcell’s King Arthur and the Fairy Queen with the Gabrieli Consort and also with Ensemble Alia Mens in France as well as concerts with Philharmonia Baroque and her Glyndebourne debut performing Oberto in Alcina (postponed from 2020).
Although Pierce has been much acclaimed for her interpretation of Baroque and Early Music, she has also been applauded for her performances of a wider repertoire including English song and Lieder by composers such as Mahler, Richard Strauss, Vaughan Williams, and Britten. She has also premiered works by composers including Iain Bell, Julian Philps, and Alex Woolf.
Her discography includes Purcell’s The Cares of Lovers with Richard Egarr and William Carter (Linn Records), 2019 BBC Music Magazine Opera Award winner Acis and Galatea with the Early Opera Company / Christian Curnyn (Chandos), An English Coronation and King Arthur (BBC Music Magazine Opera Award nominee 2020) with the Gabrieli Consort / McCreesh (Signum), Vaughan Williams Symphony No 7 ‘Antartica’ with the RLPO / Manze (Onyx). Future plans include a disc of Schubert songs with Roderick Williams and Christopher Glynn.
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale
Under the musical direction of Richard Egarr in his second season as Music Director, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) is recognized as “America’s leading historically informed ensemble” (The New York Times). Considered the most versatile ensemble of its kind, and performing on period instruments, PBO presents repertoire ranging from early Baroque to late Romantic, as well as new works and major operatic productions. The ensemble engages audiences through its signature Bay Area series, national and international tours, recordings, commissions, and education programs. Having celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, PBO was founded by Laurette Goldberg and led by Music Director Laureate Nicholas McGegan for the past 35 years. Philharmonia is the largest ensemble of its kind in the United States.
PBO’s musicians are leaders in historical performance and serve on the faculties of The Juilliard School, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Harvard, and Stanford. It welcomes eminent guest artists including mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Anne Sofie von Otter, countertenors Anthony Roth Costanzo and Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, violoncellist Steven Isserlis, and maestros Jonathan Cohen and Jeannette Sorrell. PBO enjoys longstanding artistic collaborations with The Juilliard School, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), and appears regularly at Disney Hall, Lincoln Center, Norfolk Chamber Festival, and Tanglewood. In collaboration with Cal Performances in 2017, PBO produced a fully-staged period opera, Rameau’s Le Temple de la Gloire, and produced a fully- staged, reimagined production of Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo directed by Christopher Alden and featuring countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, bass-baritone Davóne Tines, and soprano Lauren Snouffer in eight sold out performances in January 2020. Aci was named Best Operatic Performance in the Bay Area by San Francisco Classical Voice in 2020. PBO also co- produced Aci with National Sawdust in Brooklyn, Cath Brittan, and Anthony Roth Costanzo in 2017.
Among the most recorded orchestras in the world, PBO boasts a discography of nearly 50 recordings, including a coveted archival performance of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in Berlioz’s Les Nuits D’été, and a GRAMMY®-nominated recording of Haydn symphonies. The orchestra released the world premiere recording of the original version of Rameau’s Le Temple de la Gloire with the unedited libretto by Voltaire in 2018. In 2020, PBO released three groundbreaking recordings: a full collection of commissioned works by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, a selection of arias sung by rising star contralto Avery Amereau, and Handel’s Saul with countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen.
Philharmonia Baroque was the first orchestra in the San Francisco Bay Area to commission Caroline Shaw. Shaw wrote four works for Anne Sofie von Otter and the orchestra, including a major choral work. The first work premiered at LA’s Disney Hall; the last at Lincoln Center.
The award-winning Philharmonia Chorale is critically acclaimed for its brilliant sound, robust energy, and sensitive delivery of the text. Formed in 1995, the Chorale provides a vocal complement whose fluency in the stylistic language of the baroque period matched that of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Founded by John Butt, a baroque keyboardist and one of the world’s leading Bach scholars, the Chorale was led by Lamott from 1997 to 2020. In 2019, Handel’s Saul was named Best of the Bay’s “Best Choral Performance” by San Francisco Classical Voice.
Philharmonia is the only major orchestra in the United States with a permanent initiative dedicated to Jews & Music. The organization launched one of the most successful alternative concert series in the country, SESSIONS, in 2015 with fully sold out performances, and launched In the Office in 2019 in partnership with the advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
During the pandemic, the organization has presented more than 100 virtual programs, including the popular Live from Amsterdam with Music Director Richard Egarr, and What’s New and HIP with Tarik O’Regan and Richard Egarr, focused on notions surrounding new music.
At a Glance
This concert revels in the superb music of the English Restoration period during the second half of the 17th century. After Oliver Cromwell’s austerities were defeated, the pleasure-loving King Charles II ushered in a brilliant period of artistic creativity in theater and music, with the two art forms frequently joined together in English operas and masques. And musicians flourished to meet the opportunities. Though the lives of Christopher Gibbons, John Blow, Matthew Locke, and Henry Purcell spanned more than a generation, they all knew and influenced each other. The second half of this concert will be devoted to the youngest and greatest of them, Purcell, and to his finest musical/theatrical creation, The Fairy Queen of 1692.
Fantasy in A minor
The oldest surviving son of one of England’s greatest Renaissance composers Orlando Gibbons, Christopher Gibbons had to wait until after the end of Cromwell’s Protectorate to be able to fully reap the rewards of his talents as composer and organist. Trained by his illustrious father, he was appointed organist at Winchester Cathedral in 1638. But the English Civil War erupting in 1641
brought his career almost to a halt as the Puritans sacked the churches and his organ was destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers.
During a hand-to-mouth existence as a Royalist musician in London, Gibbons collaborated with his fellow Royalist Matthew Locke to write one of England’s first theatrical masques, Cupid and Death, in 1653. Rewarding his loyalty, Charles II in 1660 favored Gibbons by appointing him as organist and chorus master at the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey, where he shone more as a performer than a composer. Among his students at the Chapel Royal was Henry Purcell. Although his music is rarely heard today, Gibbons wrote significant organ and sacred choral music, as well as some attractive consort music for small ensembles, including the Fantasy in A minor that opens today’s concert.
Born just ten years before him, John Blow pursued a career in tandem with Purcell’s. As a boy, he like Purcell was selected as a chorister of the Royal Chapel and demonstrated his precocious composing skills with several sacred anthems. Taught there by Christopher Gibbons, he in turn trained Purcell when he arrived in the choir. In 1668, he was appointed organist at Westminster Abbey and would be succeeded in that post a decade later by Purcell.
Though Blow was most admired for his sacred music, he wrote a short opera, Venus and Adonis, for King Charles II that was extremely popular at the court and was a significant inspiration for Purcell’s later opera Dido and Aeneas. Blow also wrote quantities of secular and sacred songs of which we will hear three.
Probably written for the feast of St. Cecilia, patron saint of music, “Welcome, Every Guest” is a spirited song contrasting English musical style with foreign influences (“your dainties from abroad”). In its middle section, Blow is happy to provide an animated Spanish dance with guitar and recorders, but gives the final prize to the soprano’s English virtuosity at the end. Telling the old story of innocence betrayed, “Lovely Selina” uses a lilting repeating bass melody to ground the soprano’s free-flowing lines. A sacred song “Peaceful is he and most secure” reflects the earlier style of the English lute song, in which words are beautifully painted and the instrumentalist and singer merge as equal expressive partners.
Curtain Tune from The Tempest
A fervent Royalist, Matthew Locke trained as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral under Edward Gibbons, Christopher Gibbons’ uncle, and there was drawn into the final struggle of Charles I to keep his throne (and his head) against Oliver Cromwell. In the early 1640s, Charles and Queen Henrietta chose Exeter as their sanctuary, and their son, later to restore the monarchy as Charles II, lived for several years close to Locke. At some point, Locke left with Prince Charles for The Netherlands, where he converted to Catholicism. In 1660 when he returned to the English throne, Charles II unsurprisingly chose him as a court composer for his 24 Violins and his wind ensemble. Locke also wrote the processional march for Charles’ coronation.
Locke was a daring and original composer whose music deeply impressed the young Henry Purcell, who was later to write an ode mourning Locke’s death.
Locke’s remarkable music for Dryden’s revision of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 1674 was one of Purcell’s favorites and an inspiration for his own theater music. The “Curtain Tune” opens The Tempest, with a vivid musical portrait of the storm that sets the play in motion. It begins with an ominous calm before the storm, featuring foreboding dissonances as the chords rub against each other. Then a gradual accelerando and crescendo set the winds blowing with slashing fast scales imitating lightning. In this score, Locke used some of the earliest detailed dynamic markings indicating exactly the effects he wanted to produce.
Though in his own day Henry Purcell was already considered the most gifted of the English composers, strangely as little is known about his life as is about Shakespeare’s. Even his birthdate is unknown as well as the exact identity of his father, although we do know he was born into a family of musicians associated with the English court. At about nine or 10, he became a boy chorister in the Chapel Royal. After his voice broke, he held a series of increasingly important positions in the royal music establishments. In 1677, he was appointed a composer for the King’s 24 Violins and two years later at age 20 became the organist at Westminster Abbey. After 1685 when James II came to the throne and turned out to be an indifferent patron of the arts, Purcell began concentrating on writing incidental music for the thriving London theatre as well as creating several of the stunning British masques, a Baroque form that combined music, theatre, and dance with extravagant stage effects. When he died — of causes we do not know — at the premature age of 36 on November 21, 1695, he was mourned by London’s musical and theatrical establishment and buried with much ceremony at the foot of Westminster Abbey’s organ.
Though he also wrote significant instrumental works, Purcell especially excelled in vocal music both for chorus and solo voice. In addition to writing independent songs, he included quantities of songs in his incidental music for the theatre.
In publishing the posthumous collection of his songs, Orpheus Britannicus, in 1698, Henry Playford extolled Purcell’s “peculiar Genius to express the Energy of English words, whereby he mov’d the Passions of all his Auditors.” Purcell created a new standard for setting the English language — notorious for its bewildering variety of syllabic stresses and its over-abundance of consonants — with clarity and beauty. He was a master of “word illustration:” the art of conveying both the meaning of words and their emotional connotations through the imaginative use of melodic shapes, harmonic colors, and rhythm. Fascinated with the florid vocal writing of the Italian composers of the 17th century, Purcell artfully used coloratura not merely for vocal display but to give stress and emotional color to significant words.
Two of the Purcell songs Rowan Pierce will perform demonstrate the composer’s daring musical techniques for expressing extreme emotions. Setting a text by Nahum Tate, the librettist for Dido and Aeneas, “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation” dramatizes a scene found in the Gospel of Luke, in which the 12-year-old Jesus wanders away from his parents during a visit to the Temple at Jerusalem. Their frantic search for him finds him calmly discoursing with the priests of the Temple. Tate builds this short passage into a harrowing scene in which Mary is tormented by all the worst fears a mother of a lost child might experience, immensely amplified by the divine identity of this particular child.
Purcell sets Mary’s fast-changing moods of hope and despair in the form of an Italianate solo cantata mixing passages of recitative and aria. Using jagged recitative, the song opens impatiently with Mary’s cries imploring some angel to tell her where Jesus has gone. Memories of the Holy Family’s perilous journey into Sinai to escape King Herod’s wrath culminate in furious coloratura on the word “tyrant’s” as she condemns Herod’s wicked court. The most powerful moments come with Mary’s repeated cries to Gabriel, the angel who told her she was bearing God’s Son, set on high G’s above a clashing instrumental series of chords. As her mood lightens twice to reminiscences of happier moments, the music shifts into flowing arias in courtly dance style. The final recitative sums up her fear in a poignant melisma prolonging the syllable “O” — a heartbreaking summation of her anguish.
Another celebrated song of a mind in extremis is “From Silent Shades,” subtitled “Bess of Bedlam,” from 1683, set to anonymous verse. Purcell captures the disordered mind of this woman driven insane by unrequited love through violent shifts in tempo, meter, melodic style, and mood. Purcell biographer Jonathan Keates writes: “Madness was invariably fascinating to the men and women of the 17th century, partly because it was so little understood and also because it seemed to present a glimpse of another world …”
Quite different is the mesmerizing “Music for a While,” composed in 1692 for a revival of John Dryden’s play Oedipus, a retelling of Sophocles’ classic story. It is sung by one of the priests trying to summon the spirit of King Laius to name the person who murdered him. Purcell was a master of creating songs on a ground, or repeating bass pattern, over which the vocal line operates independently. Here the bass pattern relentlessly ascends while the vocal line droops soothingly downward.
Before the we turn to music from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, we will hear the regal Chaconne Henry Purcell created for the 1691 play King Arthur, also written by Dryden. Bearing little resemblance to the Arthurian tales we know, this allegorical play focused on an evil wizard representing a rival king who tries to destroy Arthur with alluring temptations, which, of course, make extravagant use of the spectacular scenic effects Restoration audiences loved. After Arthur subdues his enemies, the play closes with the Chaconne in F Major, a serene dance of peace achieved. Originating in the late 16th-century in Spain and Italy, this three-beat dance consists of variations built over a repeating harmonic pattern. Purcell was a great admirer of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis XIV’s court composer, and this piece is filled with French touches that pay tribute to him.
Excerpts from The Fairy Queen
Premiered on May 2, 1692 at the Queen’s Theatre, Dorset Garden in London, The Fairy Queen contains the finest music Purcell wrote for the theater. It was a hybrid work built around a shortened version of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which largely omits the human figures lost by night in an Athenian forest while concentrating on the play’s fairy subplot starring the rulers of the Fairies, Titania and Oberon. Purcell did not write any music for the Shakespearean text; instead, he created the music for the dazzling masques — a mixture of music and dance enhanced by gorgeous costumes and scenery — that were inserted between the acts and were only loosely connected with the play’s events. These masques were designed to appeal equally to the eye as to the ear.
As with many theatrical works in Purcell’s day, The Fairy Queen had an contemporary allegorical aspect: it paid tribute to England’s late 17th-century rulers King William and Queen Mary with Titania and Oberon meant to loosely represent them. Specifically, it was written to celebrate William and Mary’s 15th anniversary. The lavish scenery of Act IV’s masque includes a beautiful garden with fountains spouting water high in the air; this salutes William’s fascination with designing fountains. In a bit of a stretch, Act V’s masque is set in an exotic Chinese garden, honoring Mary’s love of Chinese porcelain and lacquered screens, as well as the new English mania for tea drinking.
The excerpts will not be played in sequential order as they occur in the play. Before the play began and while the audience was still taking their seats and chatting with each other, the First and Second Music was played. From the second of these preludes, we’ll hear the graceful, melodious “Air” scored for strings and a prominent solo oboe. It is followed by livelier “Rondeau,” a French court dance in three beats.
Jumping to Act III, the next selection is “If Love’s a Sweet Passion,” a beautiful, subtly ornamented aria for soprano and chorus in minuet rhythm setting oxymoronic verse about the conflicting emotions of pain and pleasure love brings. Also from Act III’s masque, we hear two highly contrasting dances: “ A Dance of Fairies,” an elegant, light-footed gavotte for these ethereal creatures, followed by the charmingly bumptious “Dance of the Haymakers,” with trumpets and drums stressing the rustics’ stumbling gait. Even clumsier is the following “Monkeys’ Dance” from Act V, with its grotesquely low bass part accompanying clownish gymnastic feats from the dancers. To balance the emphasis on courtly elegance in these masques, Restoration audiences loved these numbers of anarchic comic relief.
Representing the reconciliation of Titania and Oberon after their quarrel, Act IV displayed spectacular scenery: fountains, cypress trees, and statues surrounding a grand staircase. This visual feast was echoed by the opening Symphony with its majestic music for trumpet and drums interspersed with slower and very beautiful music for the other instruments.
From Act V, “The Plaint” is one of Purcell’s most beloved arias, a song of love lost built over a downward-drooping repeating ground-bass theme. However, scholars increasingly believe that it was likely composed by a different Purcell, Henry’s younger brother Daniel, and was added into The Fairy Queen’s score for the play’s revival in 1693.
Returning to Act II and Titania’s bower in the forest, we hear some of this work’s most unusual music: the arrival of Night and her followers Mystery, Secrecy, and Sleep come to lull Titania into dream-filled slumber. Night sings a slow aria of enchantment over eerie music in C minor for muted strings. This is followed by the beautiful “Dance of the Followers of Night”: a grave, slowly circling dance set as a double canon. This is Purcell’s salute to Matthew Locke, who in his music for The Tempest created a similar double-canon piece.
Despite an interlude of anguish in “The Plaint,” Act V is a scene of triumphant love as the three pairs of lovers, freed from their nocturnal struggles, are wed at the close of Shakespeare’s comedy — and simultaneously a salute to William and Mary’s wedding anniversary. The gorgeous Chaconne for dancing couples that closes The Fairy Queen mirrors the Chaconne from King Arthur that opened this program’s second half. Its regal main theme is poised against fascinating episodes of softer viol music and epitomizes the musical splendor that Henry Purcell could summon for his enraptured audiences.
– Janet E. Bedell
All artists and dates are subject to change and cancellation without notice as we work closely with local health experts and officials. Please note that all performances at Caramoor are in compliance with current New York State Regulations. Read our latest Health & Safety updates.