Arts & Events

Berkeley, SF, San Jose Host Midsummer Mozart Festival

By Ira Steingroot Special to the Planet
Thursday July 17, 2008 - 10:00:00 AM

Beginning this evening and stretching over the next two and a half weeks, rabid Mozart fans can hear 17 of the master’s compositions played by two outstanding musical aggregations. The Midsummer Mozart Festival orchestra conducted by the illuminating George Cleve will perform five separate programs at six venues.  

The San Francisco Symphony led by assistant conductor James Gaffigan plays an All About Mozart program this evening as part of its Summer in the City concert series. The pieces to be performed will range from the early Divertimento, written in his hometown of Salzburg by the 17-year-old, yet already seasoned, composer, to the Andante for Mechanical Organ, composed in Vienna in 1791, just six months before his death at 35.  

Whether you like Mozart’s operas, symphonies, piano sonatas and concertos or the less rarely heard ballet, oboe and horn music, there is plenty to delight and surprise.  

For tonight’s San Francisco Symphony concert at 8 p.m. at Davies Hall, Gaffigan and the orchestra are joined by piano prodigies Peng Peng (15) and Conrad Tao (13) for the quintessential musical prodigy’s beautiful but infrequently performed Piano Concerto No. 10 for two pianos, composed by the 23-year-old Mozart for his sister and himself. Also on the program are the ballet music, a seldom-heard gem from the opera Idomeneo, and Mozart’s glorious final Symphony No. 41, appropriately named the Jupiter. 

For its first program of the season, the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra will perform the aforementioned early Divertimento; the romantic Piano Concerto No. 23, featuring Jon Nakamatsu; the first of Mozart’s four last, increasingly complex symphonies, No. 38, known as “Prague” after its premiere there in 1786; and the lyrical Oboe Concerto, featuring Laura Griffiths. This piece has only been known in this form since the 1920s when it was discovered that Mozart’s Flute Concerto, K.314, was a transcription of this previously composed work for oboe. 

The Midsummer Mozart Festival program will be performed this evening, Thursday, July 17, 7:30 p.m., at Mission Santa Clara, SCU Campus, Santa Clara; Friday, July 18, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; Saturday, July 19, 6:30 p.m., Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma (outdoors), where dinner can be ordered with tickets; and Sunday, July 20, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, here in Berkeley. 

The second program of the festival will feature two spectacular compositions, the Serenade for Woodwinds and Contrabass, “Gran Partita,” and the Piano Concerto No. 24, with Nikolai Demidenko as soloist. In the “Gran Partita” Mozart plays six pairs of horns and a string bass like an organ. These are the greatest horn orchestrations before Duke Ellington. The Piano Concerto, one of only two that he wrote in a minor key, was one of the few pieces by Mozart to be popular in the 19th century. Its emotional sturm und drang anticipates romanticism.  

This second program will be performed Thursday, July 24, 7:30 p.m., Mission Santa Clara, SCU Campus, Santa Clara; Friday, July 25, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; Saturday, July 26, 6:30 p.m., Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma; and Sunday, July 27, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley. 

For its unprecedented third week of programming, Midsummer Mozart has come up with three ambitious concerts. First, a solo piano recital bringing back Nikolai Demidenko to perform well-known favorites such as the Piano Sonata, another dark piece in a minor key; and the Adagio, K.540; as well as less well-known works like the remarkable, Bach-influenced Praeludium and Fugue, K.394; the touching Allegro, which he wrote for his wife Constanze and her youngest sister Sophie; and the almost never performed Andante for a mechanical organ. As a lagniappe, Demidenko will also give out with all 24 Preludes of Chopin’s Op. 28. This concert will only be performed on Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley. 

The second added concert will be a semi-staged performance of the opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, featuring sopranos Christina Major and Khori Dastoor, tenors Isaac Hurtado and Matthew O’Neill, bass-baritone Jeremy Galyon, and William Neely in the spoken role of Pasha Selim, under the direction of Barbara Heroux with George Cleve conducting the orchestra. Although staging will be minimal, the performers will be in costume. All of the spoken dialogue will be in English with all of the singing in German. The Abduction is famous for its compassion, brilliant music and “Turkish” percussion. The opera will be performed on Friday, Aug. 1, and Sunday, Aug. 3, 7:30 p.m., in the intimate California Theater, San Jose. 

Finally, in a unique piece of programming, George Cleve will share the baton with T. W. Kang, the ex-Intel executive and sometime classical conductor and pianist. Cleve will conduct the Piano Concerto No. 20, featuring Young Jean Park. Kang will conduct the “Prague” symphony and will share the piano keyboard with Park, his wife, for the intricate and technically demanding Five Variations on an Original Andante. This concert will only be performed on August 2, 7:30 p.m., Le Petit Trianon, San Jose.  


For more information on the Midsummer Mozart Festival, call (415) 627-9141 or see For more information about the San Francisco Symphony, call (415) 864-6000 or see