Arts Listings

Midsummer Mozart Kicks Off New Season

By Ira Steingroot, Special to the Planet
Tuesday July 17, 2007

For the last two weeks, Maestro George Cleve has been teasing Mozart aficionados with hints of what they can expect at this year’s upcoming 33rd Annual Midsummer Mozart Festival.  

A week ago Sunday, 150 fans were treated to a cornucopia of smoked salmon, brie cheese, Joseph Schmidt truffles and a delicious Gundlach Bundschu Pinot while members of the Festival Orchestra regaled them with a variety of duets, trios and quartets in an idyllic garden setting of roses, hummingbirds, violets and finches.  

Last Wednesday, the whole Ensemble previewed the opening piece of this year’s first program at a Noontime Concert at the historic St. Patrick’s Church at Yerba Buena Gardens. 

For the garden party there were contemporary transcriptions for flute and violin of arias from The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute including some of the bird catcher Papageno’s most beloved songs; two movements from the intense, late Divertimento for String Trio, a masterpiece and, sadly, his only string trio; and the two movements of his brief 3rd Flute Quartet, whose second movement Mozart later transmuted into the sixth of his magnificent Gran Partitas. Flutist Maria Tamburino was outstanding, as always, in the duets and the quartet. 

At St. Patrick’s, the orchestra performed the Divertimento for Two Horns and Strings in B flat, which was probably composed to celebrate Mozart’s sister Nannerl’s name day on July 26, 1776. When Mozart penned this, he was 20, his sister was 25 and the United States was three weeks old. 

These performances in gardens and churches return this great composer’s music to the kind of informal and occasional settings in which they were first played. 

This is not to say that Mozart was never played in concert halls in his own lifetime, but almost all of his music was written for some specific event: the sacred music was presented as part of a service at a church or cathedral; the operas premiered in theaters as the equivalent of our Broadway musical openings; many of the piano sonatas were written as practice pieces for his students; the serenades and divertimentos were the background music to graduations and weddings; the Masonic pieces were played in the Lodge and at memorials for departed brothers; arrangements of Bach and Handel were done for the musical get-togethers in the home of his patron, Baron von Swieten. It would be easy to multiply examples.  

The first program of the festival, which runs from July 19-22, will feature the aforementioned Divertimento for Oboe, 2 Horns and Strings in D major. Mozart composed this work in the same month that he composed the Haffner Serenade and its accompanying march, the opening pieces of the festival’s second program. The strings called for in the title are a quartet, not the full ensemble, so this is an intimate chamber piece.  

The Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, featuring internationally renowned pianist Janina Fialkowska, was the first of three that he wrote over a fourteen-week period for performance at Lenten concerts in 1786. Although No. 23 is the most famous, there is nothing shabby about any of them. The final rondo allegro of No. 22 begins with a child-like theme that becomes a happy march when picked up by the full orchestra.  

The Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, featuring Rufus Olivier, principal bassoonist with the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet, like all the wind concertos, is less well-known than the keyboard and violin concertos. It is a treat to hear Mozart composing for a more unusual horn sound. Like Shakespeare, he gets inside the personality of the voice for which he is writing and gives the bassoon a profound set of wordless arias full of lovely melodies and some amount of virtuosic gymnastics. 

Symphony No. 34 in C major is a transitional work, the last before the final six great symphonies. Scattered among the earlier numbers, none of which have a minuet movement, are such masterpieces as Nos. 25, 29 and 31, and the Paris Symphony. No. 34 is the last of these charming, early, small-scale gems.  

The second program of the festival, which runs from July 26-29, will begin with the March in D major, K.249, and the Serenade for Orchestra in D major, “Haffner,” featuring violinist and concertmaster Robin Hansen. Although the serenade and the later symphony of the same name were written for the Haffner family, there is no musical connection between them. The serenade was commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Marie Elisabeth Haffner and contains some exquisite solo violin writing by Mozart. 

“Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia?” aria, K.582 and “Vado, ma dove?” aria, featuring lyric mezzo-soprano Elspeth Franks, both have texts by Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s great Italian librettist of the Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni. Neither of these pieces, though, is from a Mozart opera. Instead, they were written in 1789 for insertion into an otherwise forgotten opera by Martin y Soler featuring Louise Villeneuve. The emotionally charged Mozart arias would have spiced up an otherwise dull opera while also displaying the strengths of Villeneuve’s voice. The following year she was the first Doribella in Cosi fan tutte. 

This year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival concludes with the glorious Mass in C Major “Coronation,” sung by Cantabile Chorale. Two of Mozart’s greatest masses, the C minor and the famous Requiem, are incomplete, so the Coronation Mass is the only one of his sacred masterpieces that Mozart finished. It takes its name from the fact that Salieri, his supposed enemy, directed a performance of this mass at the 1791 coronation of Leopold II. Mozart applied all the resources he would have brought to an opera to this Latin text church composition. The soprano solo parts function as beautiful arias. 

We are often reduced to inadequate adjectives when we attempt to describe music, but the compositions of Mozart include masterpieces as great and greater than those of any other European classical composer.  

Yet even his lesser works have an inherent perfection that is unparalleled in the work of any other composer. Once they are begun, they have an inevitability that is the sign of their genius. George Cleve is one of the great living interpreters of Mozart and whether he chooses to open up some small unknown treasure otherwise ignored or to revisit a familiar masterpiece and give it new life, he always presents something revelatory about the work of this divinely gifted composer. 

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 p.m. outdoors at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma; and on July 22 at 7 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Berkeley.  

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. 

For tickets and information about the Midsummer Mozart Festival call (415) 627-9145 or see