Arts Listings

Midsummer Mozart Benefit Concert at City Club Sunday

By Ira Steingroot, Special to the Planet
Friday January 25, 2008

This Sunday at the Berkeley City Club, world-renowned pianist Seymour Lipkin will join music director George Cleve and the Midsummer Mozart Orchestra to initiate the 34th season of the Midsummer Mozart Festival.  

They will be performing intimate pocket versions of some of Mozart’s most charming compositions for an audience of exactly 100 people. For the lucky century of Amadeans who get into this benefit concert, there will also be largesse of fine food and wine along with the great music. 

Seymour Lipkin, a student of Rudolf Serkin’s who won the Rachmaninoff Competition at 19, has conducted and played the piano with every major orchestra, conductor, chamber ensemble and festival in the world. He has been a frequent guest with the Midsummer Mozart Orchestra and a longtime friend, colleague and, at one time, a teacher of piano and conducting to George Cleve. He will be donating his performances to the festival.  

For this benefit concert, Lipkin and four string players from the festival Orchestra will be playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13 in C Major in a transcription for piano accompanied by string quartet, a performance possibility suggested by Mozart. This sparkling work was composed by Mozart after his first year living in Vienna, and first played there in March and later in the year in Salzburg in October of 1783 It was one of his few piano concertos published during his lifetime. 

Lipkin will also perform as a soloist on the Piano Sonata in D Major, Mozart’s final piano sonata. It was composed in 1789 and has often been associated with the six easy sonatas Mozart was supposed to compose for Princess Frederika of Prussia in that year. The difficulty and experimental nature of the music, though, belies this unless the Princess was an amateur with virtuosic capabilities. 

Also on the program is the late serenade, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, probably Mozart’s single most familiar melody. It has been heard in over three dozen films and television episodes and has been used to catch the ears of battalions of insomniacs by many a late night CD offering of classical music treasures. Even these indignities have not destroyed it. Mozart wrote it in Vienna in 1787 and for this performance it will be performed by a nonet from the Orchestra’s string section.  

The Orchestra horn section will also have a chance to present its talents when flutist Maria Tamburino and oboist Laura Griffiths combine to play instrumental duets from a 1792 edition of operatic arias taken from The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro. Some of the duets for flute and violin from this edition have been performed at a previous benefit and although the words are missing the emotions and personalities of the characters in the operas are perfectly transposed into their wood and metal alter egos. 

It is easy to convey the personal and historical facts surrounding the creation of this music during the rococo epoch in Eighteenth Century Europe. It is harder to explain the afterlife of this music, its movement from ephemeral popularity during Mozart’s lifetime to appreciation from a few cognoscenti like E.T.A. Hoffman, Eduard Morike and Soren Kierkegaard to the preternatural fame of the man today. The reason we still listen is not because of the cheese monger/French horn player, the Masons, the Popes and cardinals, Sheridan’s brother-in-law, princes and princesses, mesmerists and Jewish-Italian librettists, fascinating as these are. 

We listen not because this music was once great, but because it is now even greater and we need it even more today. In order to have it, we also need the imagination and insight and virtuosity of a George Cleve or a Seymour Lipkin. Through their work with the Midsummer Mozart Festival they inspire and discipline fellow musicians in order to bring these sacred treasures to life, not as musty, mechanical, note-perfect simulacra but as living, moving experiences full of beauty, surprise and humanity.  

Even if you cannot be one of the lucky hundred who attend this benefit concert, watch for this summer’s schedule of five programs, July 18 through Aug. 3, in San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Jose, Berkeley, and Sonoma. Complete concert details will be available in the spring at 




5:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Hors d’oeuvres, fine wines and a silent auction. Admission is $75, limited to 100. (415) 627-9141, or