New Music, Old Instruments for an Oratorio on Judas

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Music Director Nicholas McGegan and the Phiharmonia Baroque Orchestra. (Photo: Suzanne Karp/PBO)

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) specializes in old music, work by Purcell and Rameau, Mozart and Bach, written for what the musicians call period instruments -- the Model Ts and Packards, as it were, of the string section. But the PBO has a new initiative, "New Music for Old Instruments," for which they've commissioned fresh compositions by women composers. The PBO opens its season on Oct. 4–8 with the first of these projects, The Judas Passion by Sally Beamish, an oratorio with a libretto by David Harsent. It's a co-commission with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

My Do List co-host this week, Matias Tarnopolsky, really likes Beamish's work, especially the way she writes for voices. And Harsent's libretto sounds intriguing, interrogating the concept of Judas as a betrayer unworthy of God's love. PBO Music Director Nicholas McGegan tackles these big projects with great pizazz -- he led the world premiere in London Sept. 24, and takes the podium for these U.S. performances with the PBO moving from Bing Hall at Stanford, to the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and the First Congregational Church in Berkeley. Details here.