Philharmonia Baroque, “America’s Period-Instrument Orchestra,” brings Midwinter Magic, conducted by music director Nicholas McGegan, to the First Congregational Church this weekend for a celebration of Felix Mendelssohn’s 200th birthday.
Another anniversary is also being celebrated with featured guest artists on the program.
“To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the San Francisco Girls Chorus,” McGegan said, “I have arranged Men-delssohn’s beautiful motets to feature the girls’ voices with the orchestra.
The program features Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op. 26; Scherzo from the Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20; Three Motets, Op. 39 (in McGegan’s arrangement) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21 & 61.
“This program samples music from all stages of Mendelssohn’s life. With Shakespeare—the muse of poetry—to highlight the talents of a great composer, [we’ll also] honor this amazing group of girls. This will be a splendid affair!” The San Francisco Girls Chorus is directed by Susan McManus. Stephen Baker Turner will narrate for the program.
The Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written when Mendelssohn was 16; the Overture for The Hebrides dates from the middle of his life (1809-1847). A Midsummer Night’s Dream was completed 17 years after the Overture was composed. Stephen Ledbetter remarks, “Though both Mozart and Schubert traveled further on their musical paths after a precocious beginning, neither of them had produced a work as brilliant as Mendelssohn’s Octet or the Overture to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ before their 18th birthday ... Like both the earlier masters, Men-delssohn exploded in brilliance very early, then died far too soon. However, unlike them ... it is the works Men-delssohn composed before he turned 30 that dominate our picture of the composer.”
Ledbetter says of the Octet: “Men-delssohn virtually created a new medium by fusing the two quartets [usually treated as two antiphonal groups] into a single large ensemble that combined the instruments in every possible permutation ...” Of the motets, he notes they were composed in Rome, where he stayed near the top of the Spanish Steps and could hear the singing from a nuns’ cloister. Mendelssohn’s friendship with Palestrina’s first biographer, Giuseppe Baini, might also have influenced the Palestrina-like melodic lines.
Performed by Philharmonia Baroque at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7 and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8 at First Congregational Church, on Channing Way and Dana Street. Other locations and dates for this program are: 8 p.m. today (Thursday) at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, and 8 p.m. Friday at the First United Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.
$30-72, $10 student rush. (415) 392-4400. philharmonia.org.