A Chat With: Conductor Nicholas McGegan

Classic Arts Features   A Chat With: Conductor Nicholas McGegan
An interview with conductor Nicholas McGegan. On March 4, he will lead Handel's stirring Samson at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center.

British conductor and early music specialist Nicholas McGegan will lead Handel’s glorious work on March 4 at 8pm. The performance will feature the American Classical Orchestra, and soloists Thomas Cooley, Megan Chartrand, Virginia Warnken, John Taylor Ward and Andrew Padgett.

Samson, a dramatic three-act oratorio is considered one of Handel’s finest works. The piece uses a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton, who based it on Milton’s Samson Agonistes, which was based on the figure Samson in the Book of Judges. There will be a pre-performance discussion with musicologist Dr. Neal Zaslaw at 7:00 pm at Alice Tully Hall.

Tickets can be purchased on www.aconyc.org, lincolncenter.org, by calling Center Charge (212-721-6500) or by calling the Alice Tully Hall Box Office (212-671-4050) or in person at the Alice Tully Hall Box Office. Prices ranges from $35-$90.

Have you conducted Samson professionally in the past? If so – where/when – and how is this performance different?

I first conducted Samson in Jerusalem in the late 1990’s as part of the Liturgica Festival that used to take place there at New Year. Since then I’ve done it in the Bay Area with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, in Germany (where I recorded it) and at Yale. Our recording was done in the Frauenkirche in Dresden, which is an amazing building. It was destroyed in WWII but has now been painstakingly restored to its former glory. It is an incredible place to make music.

Why do you think this piece is considered one of Handel’s finest works?

Firstly, the music is of consistently superlative quality and nobility. Also the principal roles are so varied and so emotionally very strong. The portrait of Samson in his blindness is deeply moving. Handel was, of course, not to know that a decade after composing it he too would lose his eyesight. But there is also some humour in the role of Dalila.

Do you have a favorite aria in the piece?

Samson’s final aria ‘Thus when the sun’ is one of the most beautiful he ever wrote. After all the high drama, darkness, and tension of the first two acts, the effect of this serene vision is completely magical.

What do you like to do when you are not conducting?

A conductor’s life involves a lot of travelling, so when I get the chance I like to stay at home either in Berkeley CA or in Scotland. We like to cook, entertain and spend time with friends. When I am on the road, I like to visit as many art galleries as I can, as well as explore restaurants. When I was a teenager I wanted to be an archaeologist, so when I’m in Europe I love to go to castles, churches and other historical sites.

Over the next few months, what is one performance (that you are conducting) that you are especially looking forward to?

In the coming months I have lots to look forward to: a concert in Cologne with Robert Levin and his wife Ya-Fei Chuang celebrating the 300th birthday of CPE Bach; a Vivaldi oratorio, Juditha Triumphans, with Philharmonia; also the première of a production of Handel Acis and Galatea in a version by Mozart. This will be directed by Mark Morris. Working with him is one of my greatest artistic pleasures. He and his amazing dancers are always an inspiration, plus we have so much fun!

Please feel free to share an interesting bit of history or fact about Handel’s Samson.

A few weeks before his death, Handel attended a performance of Samson in London. He sat on stage, a frail blind man in his 70’s. When it came to the aria ‘Total eclipse” where Samson describes his own blindness, Handel began to weep also moving the whole audience to tears.

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