Music going viral is nothing new. As demonstrated in the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's wide-ranging performance Wednesday night at Livermore's Bankhead Theater, composers of the 17th and 18th centuries picked up and passed around new themes and styles long before the Internet was invented.
Titled "Music from the Heart of Europe," the program offered a dazzling array of works based on a variety of sources. The two-hour performance included music by eight composers, mixing well-known names such as Bach, Biber, Telemann and Muffat with a group of lesser-known lights that included Johann Schein, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Johann Pisendel and Joseph Umstatt.
If the names were often unfamiliar, the results were mostly arresting; Wednesday's performance, which marked the period instrument orchestra's first appearance in Livermore, repeats Thursday at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall, Friday at the SF Jazz Center in San Francisco and Saturday and Sunday at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.
With music director Nicholas McGegan in New York this week (he conducted Handel's "Samson" at Lincoln Center on Tuesday), the orchestra was left in the capable hands of frequent Philharmonia Baroque concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock.
Serving as leader, first violinist and congenial host, she explained how, from the 17th century on, dance forms throughout Europe began to be heard and adapted in new and unusual ways from nation to nation, composer to composer.
From Muffat's "Nobilis Juventus" (Noble Youth), which tips its hat to the English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Italians, to Telemann's lavish suite, "Les Nations," which takes the audience to far-flung sites in Turkey and Russia, the program made an intriguing progress through time and place.
The first half's works alternated between suites and sonatas, all in the 17th-century style. Muffat's vivacious suite came first, with Blumenstock leading a sprightly, energized performance from the first violin position. The beguiling themes and quick rhythmic shifts of Schmelzer's four-part "La Pastorella" -- which incorporates a series of gavottes from England, France, and Germany, among other countries -- brought the set to a whirling finish.
In between, there were lovely performances of sonatas by Schmelzer and Biber -- the former's gently insinuating Sonata III from "Sacro-profanum Concentus Musicus," and the latter's simply gorgeous Sonata IX from the "Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes." The Philharmonia players applied themselves to this music with verve and alert focus, and the sound bloomed in a performance of radiant color and texture.
After intermission, it was on to the 18th century. Bach's six-part "Ricercar" from "The Musical Offering" was this set's attractive centerpiece; here, the orchestra's players melded in an exquisitely poised performance that emphasized the work's rich sonorities and contrapuntal shifts.
Still, Bach wasn't the only charmer in this half of the program. Umstatt's Concerto for Violin, Strings and Continuo in A major was a highlight, with Blumenstock bringing crisp tone and considerable agility to the solo violin part. Pisendel's Sonata for Orchestra in C minor made a vibrant introduction to the Bach. As always, the orchestra's individual players -- the strings led by Blumenstock, William Skeen on viola da gamba, Paul Hale on cello, Kristin Zoernig on double bass, David Tayler on theorbo, Hanneke van Proosdij on organ and Charles Sherman on harpsichord -- contributed mightily.
If the listener felt slightly world-weary by the time "Les Nations" brought the program to a close, it was hardly the orchestra's fault. Telemann's score is a bit like one of those relentless "10 cities in seven days" excursions, but its musical effects -- a dainty turn through France, a heated visit to Portugal and the sound of Tayler's theorbo, suggesting the bells of a Moscow cathedral -- certainly made the trip memorable.
Presents "Music from the Heart of Europe"
When and Where: 8 p.m. Friday, SFJazz Center, San Francisco; 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Tickets: $25-$93; www.philharmonia.org