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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:01 pm | Fair 49º


Margo Kline: Nothing But the Best from Academy Chamber Orchestra

Conductor Nicholas McGegan leads the ensemble in notable performances of major works

The Music Academy of the West Chamber Orchestra, with Nicholas McGegan conducting, presented a program of major works Saturday night in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara.

With the estimable McGegan on the podium, the chamber ensemble made the most of First Presbyterian’s acoustic riches. The pews were filled with music lovers for the program of works by J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel and Ludwig van Beethoven.

McGegan is deservedly lauded for his career as a specialist in period music and performances. For more than 20 years, he has been the music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. He also can give the L.A. Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel a run for his money as a physically active maestro; at this performance, he fairly danced on the podium.

The opening selection was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, the first of six sent by the composer to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721 in the hope of securing a job. Hearing this music today, it’s difficult to believe that Bach would have had money troubles and difficulties finding secure employment. (Bach did not get the job because the Margrave didn’t have enough musicians to perform the concertos.) Be that as it may, the chamber musicians of the academy were more than equal to the task.

Next on the program was Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351, written in 1748 to commemorate the peace treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession. It was England’s King George II who commissioned the work to accompany a mighty show of fireworks in celebration of the peace treaty, and Handel obliged with a suitably martial work.

First violinist Alexandra Hoopes and oboist Henry Ward had some brilliant duet parts here, playing with great style. George Nickson on timpani and Christopher Evatt at the harpsichord were also notable.

Closing the evening was the Symphony No. 8 in F-Major, Opus 93, Beethoven’s next to last great work, in which he revisited some of the more traditional modes that he had discarded for his Symphony No. 7. The second movement of this eighth symphony, allegretto scherzando, is said to have been inspired by the ticking of the metronome, newly invented in Beethoven’s time. And the composer wrote a minuet as the third movement, a convention of earlier Baroque symphonies.

McGegan coaxed the most refined and nuanced performance out of the ensemble for the final movement, allegro vivace. Listeners don’t always think of Beethoven as sparkling, but this work definitely was. Members of the audience rose to their feet to honor the performers and the conductor, amid shouts of “Bravo!”

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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