Arts Listings

City Club Hosts Benefit for Midsummer Mozart Festival

By Ira Steingroot, Special to the Planet
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:37:00 AM

Local Mozart aficionados look forward all year to the series of concerts presented at cities around the Bay Area by the Midsummer Mozart Festival under the direction of Maestro George Cleve. All year long, “spite of despondence” as Keats says, we draw comfort from our eager anticipation of the exciting Mozartean gifts that Cleve will unwrap for us at the July concerts. In the last few years, we have occasionally received a lagniappe in the form of a benefit concert, and this year is no exception with the extra event scheduled for Mozart’s 254th geburtstag on Sunday, Jan. 24, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Berkeley City Club. 

Along with the usual exquisite compositions and sparkling playing, there will be food, wine and a silent auction to benefit the July festival. The whole event will take place in the cozy chamber setting of architectural great Julia Morgan’s Berkeley City Club. 

Cleve has come up with a program of two unique quartets, a quintet and an early divertimento for strings. First up is the brief 3rd Flute Quartet in C Major, K. 285b, only two movements, featuring flautist Maria Tamburino. Mozart probably wrote this in 1781 and then transmuted the second movement into the sixth of his magnificent Gran Partita later in the same year. In the smaller quartet setting, it is like an old friend you usually only see at parties, but now get to spend time shmoozing with one on one. 

Mozart virtually invented the piano quartet when he wrote his first one in 1785. It was to be the first of three he was contracted to compose for the publisher Hoffmeister, but the sales were poor and he was allowed to keep the advance payment on condition that he not complete the commission. In spite of that disappointing reception, Mozart wrote one more, the Piano Quartet in E flat major, K. 493, the following year. That is the work to be played at the benefit and, although the contemporary public ignored the first one, today we are able to enjoy both of these works of genius even if they could not. The reason for their indifference was the difficulty of performing the work, which requires four virtuosi not four hausmusik performers. The interaction of the four players is seamless. Mozart, as a seller of sheet music, was writing himself out of work.  

The Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, like virtually all of Mozart’s beautiful clarinet music, was written for his friend and Masonic brother, the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler. Two years later, in 1791, Stadler would premier one of Mozart’s final masterpieces, the Clarinet Concerto for basset clarinet. This Quintet, which conveys some of the same lyrical mood as the later Concerto, is written for the standard clarinet with string quartet accompaniment. You can feel the personality of Stadler in the composition.  

Although Mozart was famous as a child prodigy, most of his great compositions were written when he was an adult, but there are some notable exceptions. One of these is the Divertimento for Strings in D major, K. 136, which will close the concert. Mozart wrote this in Salzburg in early 1772 when he had just celebrated his sweet sixteenth. The opening movement is pure joie de vivre whose rhythms and melodic drive are a sensory delight. 

All in all, a beautifully balanced, intimate program of Mozart masterpieces in a convivial setting with fine food and drink: a benefit for the Midsummer Mozart Festival, one of the Bay Area’s great cultural treasures, and a pure pleasure for the rest of us. 


chamber concert benefit for the Midsummer Mozart Festival  

6:30–9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. $75 admission includes concert, food and wine. Tickets available at, (415) 627-9141, or contact Judith at