It’s always a treat — for audiences and musicians alike — when Nicholas McGegan leads the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The elfin British conductor is a superb musician and stylist, and he shows an infectious sense of joy in everything he does.
For a long time, McGegan was a frequent presence at Powell Symphony Hall. In recent seasons, he’s had only one set of concerts each season. That makes this particular weekend a definite don’t-miss.
He’ll conduct an all-Baroque program, with J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1, three concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Friedrich Handel’s deservedly popular “Music for the Royal Fireworks." The soloists, stepping forward from the orchestra, are principal second violin Alison Harney, section violinists Helen Kim and Xiaoxiao Qiang, and principal bassoon Andrew Cuneo.
Working with such soloists is, he says, a “great treat.” With his long history with the orchestra, he’s become friends with many of the players. “It’s always a joy to bring soloists from the orchestra, and have them stand in front of their friends and perform.”
McGegan thinks it’s a plus for the audience, too, to see familiar faces in a new light. “Many pieces have short bassoon solos, but here’s an opportunity (for Cuneo) to stand up and strut his stuff.”
McGegan is an authority on the Baroque, but his talents go much further; witness his splendid new Brahms recording, “Serenades” with his San Francisco band, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Philharmonia Baroque PHP-05).
“Because I do a lot of Baroque music, orchestras tend to pigeonhole me in that stuff. I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’d love to do a Brahms symphony,’ and they say, ‘No, you have to do Handel.’” Still, he’ll get to conduct a fair amount of Mendelssohn (particularly the oratorio “Elijah”) and Brahms in the coming months, along with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.
As for this weekend, McGegan calls Bach, Handel and Vivaldi “the holy trio of Baroque music.” He thinks it’s an ideal family concert: “It’s not bowing to kids; everyone can enjoy it. We’re doing it on a Sunday afternoon, which is a good time for the whole family to come. I’ve never liked the idea that concerts were a good excuse to find a babysitter."
He adds, “It’s also a great variety show, with three different concertos for different combinations of instruments. Handel’s got the best dance music. There are lots of things for school kids to enjoy. It’s the best kind of family concert there is.”
NICHOLAS McGEGAN CONDUCTS THE ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
When 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday • Where Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand Boulevard • How much $30-$110 • More info stlsymphony.org or 314-534-1700