Traditionally, Nicholas McGegan has allocated one concert in each season of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to the nineteenth century. While programming for these concerts clearly departs from the Baroque repertoire associated with the ensemble’s name, they have been consistently engaging by providing the perspective of the nineteenth century as a transitional period, rather than one that converged upon and then pursued a specific “stylistic identity.” The 2016–17 Philharmonia Baroque season will begin next month; and, this time around, McGegan has decided to begin with his nineteenth-century offering.
This endeavor will see the return of Robert Levin performing on fortepiano. The program will be devoted entirely to Ludwig van Beethoven and consist of only two compositions. The first half will be devoted entirely to the Opus 37 (third) piano concerto in C minor. This is music from the “threshold” of the nineteenth century, since Beethoven completed it in 1801. For those interested in historical context, Beethoven wrote the last of his six Opus 18 (early) string quartets in 1800; and 1801 is also the year in which he wrote his Opus 24 (“Spring”) sonata for piano and violin (as he liked to put it) in F major. It may be fair to say that Beethoven used the first movement of this concerto to explore the dramatic expressiveness of the key of C minor. In 1804 he would begin his best-known venture into that key, the Opus 67 (fifth) symphony, which he completed in 1808. For his part Levin has considerable experience with the full canon of the Beethoven keyboard concertos, having recorded all of them with John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique on Deutsche Grammophon’s Archiv Produktion label.
McGegan has chosen to couple this concerto with a performance of the Opus 68 (“Pastoral”) symphony in F major. Beethoven’s work on this symphony overlapped considerably with his work on Opus 67. In fact, he started work on Opus 68 even earlier, in 1802. If Opus 67 involved further exploration of C minor, then Opus 68 may involve a similar extension of thoughts originating in the Opus 24 F major violin sonata. As many know, both of these symphonies were given their first performances as the same concert, the famous “musical Akademie” marathon concert held at the Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808. In many respects Opus 68 introduced an approach to program music that departed from the more “imitative” approaches that can be traced back to depictions of battles in the Renaissance and a wider range of subject matter (such as the seasons) during the Baroque period. It is also worth noting that Beethoven provided a descriptive annotation for each of the symphony’s five movements, with the outer movements focused in depictions of personal feelings. This reflects how nineteenth-century thinking had progressed beyond approaches to creativity in earlier centuries.
The San Francisco performance of this concert will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 21. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. (For those taking public transportation, this is conveniently located at bus stops for both north-south and east-west lines.) Ticket prices range from $27 to $108. City Box Office has an event page for online purchase that shows which prices apply to which sections of the house and current availability in each of those sections. In addition, ticket holders will also be able to attend a pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m. by Washington Post music critic and author Anne Midgette, who will be in San Francisco for the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism being held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Finally, because this is the first concert of the 2016–17 season, subscription packages are still on sale. These are available in a variety of options, all of which are summarized on a single Web page, which includes hyperlinks for online purchase.