Arts Listings

Midsummer Mozart Sneak Preview at El Cerrito Benefit

By Ira Steingroot, Special to the Planet
Friday July 06, 2007

In an encore of last year’s idyllic kick off event, this year’s 33rd Midsummer Mozart Festival, under the direction of Maestro George Cleve, again begins early with a sneak preview of the destival at a benefit party set in a lovely garden in the El Cerrito hills this Sunday, July 8, from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. 

One of the inviting aspects of the festival, which formally opens July 19, is that instead of the often cold, remote environment of concert halls, these performances take place in more intimate venues like churches, wineries and pocket theaters. 

The music is presented in a manner closer to the way it was first heard in Mozart’s time. The music at Sunday’s garden party will allow a lucky hundred or so listeners to get closer still. There is a $75 admission fee for this benefit event which includes complimentary food and wine and a festival T-shirt. 

The first program of the destival, which runs from July 19-22, will feature the Divertimento for Oboe, 2 Horns and Strings in D major; the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, featuring internationally renowned pianist Janina Fialkowska; the Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, featuring Rufus Olivier, principal bassoonist with the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet; and Symphony No. 34 in C major. The four performances of the first program take place on July 19 at 7:30 pm at St. Joseph Cathedral Basilica, San Jose; on July 20 at 8 p.m. at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; on July 21 at 6:30 pm outdoors at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma; and on July 22 at 7 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Berkeley. 

The second program of the festival, which runs from July 26-29, will feature the March in D major, and the Serenade for Orchestra in D major, “Haffner,” featuring violinist and concertmaster Robin Hansen; “Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia?” aria, and “Vado, ma dove?” aria, featuring lyric mezzo-soprano Elspeth Franks; and the Mass in C Major “Coronation,” sung by Cantabile Chorale. The four performances of the second program take place on July 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Mission Santa Clara, SCU Campus, Santa Clara; on July 27 at 8 p.m. at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; on July 28 at 6:30 p.m. outdoors at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma; and on July 29 at 7 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Berkeley. 

Since there is always room for a little more Mozart, you will not want to miss the Friday, July 13 concert in Davies Symphony Hall at 8 p.m. when the San Francisco Symphony’s new associate conductor, 27-year-old James Gaffigan, wields the baton for performances of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, featuring pianist Jeremy Denk. As a further treat, there will be a performance of the Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92, by that newcomer Ludwig von Beethoven. 

This concert’s program makes a nice complement to that of the Midsummer Mozart Festival. The late serenade, or “I’m inclined to like music,” as a classical novice once called it, is probably Mozart’s single most familiar melody. It has been used in over 30 films and television episodes and makes a good contrast to the beautiful, but less familiar, Haffner serenade. 

Mozart composed the 23rd Piano Concerto just 10 weeks after the 22nd. The 23rd is a well-known masterpiece with a moving adagio and virtuosic piano weaving in and out of the ensemble in the third movement. The 22nd, though less well-known than the 23rd, is equally beautiful, especially the playful, child-like allegro.  

This event is part of the Summer in the City festival. Following the concert, Mr. Gaffigan will answer questions from the audience as part of the symphony’s new “Off the Podium” program. The popularity and immediacy of the pieces to be performed makes for a good introduction to classical music, the San Francisco Symphony and its newest member, Mr. Gaffigan.  


For tickets and information about the Midsummer Mozart Festival and the Mozart in the Garden benefit in El Cerrito, call (415) 627-9145 or go to For tickets and information about the San Francisco Symphony call (415) 864-6000 or go to