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Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to present a birthday concert for ‘another’ Bach

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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born on March 8, 1714. He was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian and the elder Bach’s first wife Maria Barbara. In his day he was as popular as his father, if not more since many were beginning to view his father’s work as old-fashioned. He is best known for the time he spent in the service of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, later to take the throne and eventually to be known as Frederick the Great. Indeed, Frederick probably used Emanuel’s influence to persuade Johann Sebastian to visit the court, where, upon his arrival, Frederick immediately (so the story goes) presented Bach with a fugue subject. Bach did more with that theme than Frederick could possibly have imagined, the result being BWV 1079, called The Musical Offering.

These days the father is better remembered than the son. This is a bit unfair, since Emanuel learned inventiveness well from his father and was also a prolific keyboard artist. During the time of his service to Frederick, the younger Bach also wrote the treatise, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments). The popularity of this book had much to do with the son’s reputation overtaking that of his father, and it remains a significant resource for the study of making music to this day.

Because the impact of the son was so great in matters of both practice and theory, it is entirely appropriate that the next Philharmonia Baroque concert has been organized to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth. It is equally appropriate that this occasion should feature two proficient and scholarly keyboard artists, Robert Levin and his wife Ya-Fei Chuang. The program will present two keyboard concertos. The earlier of these is Wotquenne (Wq) 30 in B minor, which Bach composed during his service at Frederick’s court. Likely to be more interesting, however, will be the performance of an E-flat major concerto for both fortepiano and harpsichord (Wq 47), composed in 1788, the year of Bach’s death. Philharmonia Baroque Music Director Nicholas McGegan has described this piece as a tennis match between the harpsichord and the fortepiano for which the orchestra provides the net.

The program will be framed by two symphonies. The “overture” for the evening will be Bach’s Wq 178 symphony in E minor, also composed for Frederick in 1756. The program will then conclude with a symphony by another composer in royal service who most likely had been significantly influenced by both Bach’s keyboard music and the Versuch, Joseph Haydn. The final work will be Haydn’s Hoboken I/68 symphony in B-flat major, composed during his service at Eszterháza.

The San Francisco performance of this concert will take place at the SFJAZZ Center (201 Franklin Street on the northwest corner of Fell Street) at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, February 7. Ticket prices are $25, $45, $65, $84, and $97. There is an event page for this concert on the Philharmonia Baroque Web site, as well as a Web page for purchasing tickets from City Box Office. City Box Office may also be reached by telephone at 415-392-4400.

In conjunction with this concert, Philharmonia Baroque will also launch a new series of SESSIONS events. This will be a 90-minute concert organized to provide a guided tour of two of the pieces on the full program. The “tour guide” will be KQED announcer Rachael Myrow; and she will host both featured soloists, Levin and Chuang, as well as McGegan. The title of the program is A Tale of Two Keyboards, and the focus will be primarily on the Wq 47 concerto. However, McGegan will also introduce selections from the Haydn symphony. The “educational” part of the evening will be followed by a post-concert reception that will offer complimentary wine from Boisset Family Estates and will provide an opportunity for the audience to meet both the soloists and members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

This first SESSIONS event will also take place at the SFJAZZ Center and begin at 8:00 p.m. It will take place the day before the full concert on Thursday, February 6. All tickets will be sold for $25; and the Philharmonia Baroque Web site has set up a separate event page for it. In this case Philharmonia Baroque has also set up its own Web page for purchasing tickets. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-295-1900.

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