Arts Listings

Midsummer? Then It Must Be Time for Mozart

By Ira Steingroot Special to the Planet
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:45:00 AM

If the economy, global warming, the state budget impasse, two wars, nuclear proliferation and the fact that your 401k is in the toilet have got you leaning on your elbow like Durer’s Melancholia, cheer up.  

The 2009 Midsummer Mozart Festival, the only all-Mozart festival in the country, begins this week. Most of this year’s selections will be very fresh for Bay Area audiences, but there will still be a few old favorites in the lineup. More to the point, George Cleve, a Bay Area treasure, will be conducting. Cleve has a special relationship with both the works of Mozart and with his performers. They each come to sparkling life when he is wielding the baton. 

Program I of the festival will begin with the Overture to La Clemenza Di Tito, K.621, Mozart’s final opera. It was first performed in Prague in September of 1791 to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. It was not performed in America until 1952, but since then has increased appreciably in both popularity and critical esteem. Its theme is one of Mozart’s favorites, mercy and forgiveness, and the overture is like a brief mini-symphony. 

Next up is the beautiful Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos in E flat, composed by the 23-year-old Mozart for his sister Nannerl and himself. Appropriately, sisters Yong Jean Park and Yong Sun Park join the festival orchestra for this performance. 

Coming forward from the orchestra wind section, flute virtuoso Maria Tamburrino will be featured on the Flute Concerto No. 1 in G. Mozart wrote this for the Dutch amateur, Ferdinand Dejean, a physician with the Dutch East India Company when they met in Mannheim in 1778. The wonderful cadenzas should give Tamburrino ample room to display not only her technical strengths and exquisite silvery tone, but her deep interpretive abilities as well. 

The first program will conclude with Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D, known as the “Haffner.” This piece began as a now partially lost serenade written for the occasion of the ennoblement of Mozart’s friend Siegmund Haffner in Salzburg in 1782. There is also another “Haffner” serenade, written for the marriage of one of Haffner’s daughters. Our symphony, written by a young man of 26, ushers us into the world of grandeur that is Mozart’s late symphonies.  

The festival’s second concert program will begin with one of Mozart’s best early symphonies, No. 29 in A. With a few exceptions, most of the early symphonies lack that greatness that is overflowing in the late symphonies. It is an exception with four full movements, all beautifully conceived and fully realized. Both the melodies and the orchestrations are brilliant.  

Legendary pianist Seymour Lipkin, a frequent festival guest, returns this year to perform the Piano Concerto No. 19 in F. Mozart composed six piano concertos in 1784, each one a masterpiece, and this was the last of the six. Its final movement is among the most dazzling in his oeuvre. 

French horn soloist David Sprung will present another facet of Mozart’s concerto writing when he joins the festival orchestra for the Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat, from 1787. All of Mozart’s works for French horn were written for the virtuoso performer and Viennese cheese purveyor, Joseph Leutgeb.  

Although he was a gifted musician, Leutgeb brought out a strain of sarcasm in Mozart that lead him to ridicule the horn player mercilessly in the margins of some of these horn concertos (“silly ass Leutgeb,” for instance). In spite of this, the music he wrote for this vendor of frommage is wonderful, and the cadenzas allow the soloist to demonstrate everything of which the instrument is capable.  

The festival concludes with Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C, named the “Jupiter” by the British impresario J. P. Salomon. Mozart entered the opening bars of this and his other two last symphonies into his Verzeichnis aller meiner Werke, his autograph thematic catalogue of his compositions, between June 26 and Aug. 10 of 1788.  

That means that during a six-week period in the summer of 1788, after the failure of Don Giovanni in Vienna, during the time that his infant daughter died, while composing half a dozen other pieces, he carried these three symphonies around in his head and then wrote them down one after the other in fully orchestrated versions.  

Not only would that be difficult in itself, but these are the greatest symphonies of the 18th century and among the greatest pieces of music ever composed. The contrapuntal final movement of the Jupiter is usually singled out for particular excellence, but the whole symphony is magnificent from beginning to end.  

Program I of the Midsummer Mozart Festival will be performed Thursday, July 16, 8 p.m., Mission Santa Clara, SCU Campus in Santa Clara; Friday, July 17, 8 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, in San Francisco; Saturday, July 18, 6:30 p.m., Gundlach Bundschu Winery, in Sonoma (outdoors); and Sunday, July 19, 7 p.m., First Congregational Church, in Berkeley.  

Program II of the festival will be performed Thursday, July 23, 8 p.m., California Theatre, in San Jose; Friday, July 24, 8 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, in San Francisco; Saturday, July 25, 6:30 p.m., Gundlach Bundschu Winery, in Sonoma (outdoors); and Sunday, July 26, 7 p.m., First Congregational Church, in Berkeley.  

For more information on the Midsummer Mozart Festival and the receptions following the concerts call (800) 838-3006 or visit