Nicholas McGegan and Houston Symphony musicians rehearse with social distancing. (Courtesy John Mangum)

Bay Area’s Nicholas McGegan conducts onstage concert from Texas

‘Live from Jones Hall’ showcases Houston Symphony musicians in streaming performances

“This is my first concert since March 8, so I am THRILLED,” writes Nicholas McGegan from Houston, with capital letters for emphasis.

The Berkeley resident, award-winning music director laureate of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, will conduct a live concert with the Houston Symphony on Aug. 7, leading Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusic,” Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and late African American composer William Grant Still’s “Summerland,” from his “Three Visions” suite, which portrays what happens to individuals, regardless of skin color, when their time on earth is over.

The concert is part of “Live from Jones Hall,” a livestream series this summer in which musicians of the Houston Symphony from every section of the orchestra are being spotlighted in small ensemble settings. Patrons who purchase $10 tickets to the performances (which start at 8 p.m. in Texas, 6 p.m. in Calfornia) will receive a private link to enjoy the live concert as well as a recording of it for 24 hours.

COVID-19’s impact has made everybody miserable, but for McGegan, 70, who has been girding the globe, leading hundreds of concerts and opera performances in his half-century long career, four months’ inactivity was intolerable.

“I am having a terrific time,” McGegan says. “The Houston Symphony staff has really made sure that every possible precaution has been taken. The only strange thing is that everybody onstage is sitting much further apart than usual, so it is a little bit harder for everyone to play together, at least at the first rehearsal. However everyone is getting accustomed to socially-distanced music-making and there is such a mood of joy at being able to play again.

“After months without performing, this invitation [from Houston Symphony CEO John Mangum, formerly with San Francisco Symphony] is manna from heaven. I have never conducted wearing a mask, but if Zorro can swashbuckle around California on horseback, I should be able to wave my arms around in Texas!”

There will be only a handful of listeners in Jones Hall, which in normal times seats close to 3,000. “It will be a bit like giving a concert in front of royalty not that I have much experience of that,” says McGegan, one of the world’s preeminent experts in baroque music, which often had only royal retinue as audience.

McGegan also has earned connection with royalty, having become an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire “for services to music overseas”; receiving the Halle Handel Prize; the Order of Merit of the State of Lower Saxony (Germany); the Medal of Honour of the City of Göttingen and numerous other awards.

“The Four Seasons” is usually performed with a guest star, but McGegan and Mangum arranged for four orchestra members to be soloists: Boson Mo for “Spring,” Christopher Neal for “Summer,” Amy Semes for “Fall,” and MuChen Hsieh for “Winter.”

Mangum, 45, who was born and raised in Danville, attended his first symphony concerts in Davies Symphony Hall as a teenager. As director of artistic planning first for the New York Philharmonic and later “coming home” to the San Francisco Symphony in the same position, he worked here with Michael Tilson Thomas planning programs and engaging artists. Mangum became president of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County in 2014 and CEO of the Houston Symphony in 2018.

To purchase tickets to Saturday’s concert, visit https://houstonsymphony.org/tickets/concerts/live-from-jones-hall-august-8/.

Classical Music

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