Arts & Events

It's Mozart Time Again

By Ira Steingroot
Tuesday July 13, 2010 - 03:18:00 PM

The wonderful time of the year has come, the time of the 2010 Midsummer Mozart Festival, the only all-Mozart festival in the country. This year’s celebration of the heartbreakingly beautiful music of the Salzburg-born genius will feature two programs, each presented at four locations around the Bay Area over the next two weekends. The selections include symphonies, concertos, ballet music and vocal arias performed by top local performers and internationally renowned artists, all under the direction of Maestro George Cleve, a Bay Area treasure and one of the world’s greatest interpreters of Mozart’s music.  

Program I will begin with an early Symphony, No. 15 in G major, K.124, and close with Mozart’s penultimate Symphony, No. 40 in G minor, K.550. No. 15 was written when Mozart was sixteen and although many of his early symphonies lack the interest of his later works, this is one of the exceptions. It has four movements, but the whole piece can be played in less than ten minutes, a lovely little gem with a particularly beautiful third movement Menuetto. Sixteen more years separate this proficient work by the world’s most brilliant teenager from No. 40, a work that can only be compared to transcendent works on the level of King Lear, the Sistine Chapel or Mozart’s own Don Giovanni.  

Mozart entered the opening bars of this and his other two last symphonies, Nos. 39 and 41, the Jupiter, into his Verzeichnis aller meiner Werke, his autograph thematic catalogue of his compositions, between June 26 and August 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 Eighteenth Century and among the greatest pieces of music ever composed. In these monumentally exquisite late symphonies Mozart presents the Nineteenth Century with the seeds that would flower into a hundred years of romantic music.  

Sandwiched into this symphonic roll, Cleve has chosen two meaty concertos to fill his Mozart hoagy, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K.467, and Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218. Fourteen-year-old piano and violin prodigy Audrey Vardanega will perform No. 21 with its famously haunting Andante. This slow second movement is well known from its use in the movie Elvira Madigan, but let’s not hold that against it. Like Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” Indeed, variety is the very essence of this composition with an abundance of unique ideas in all three movements. It is through its position between the fast opening Allegro maestoso and the equally spirited closing Allegro vivace assai that the lyricism and simplicity of the Andante becomes fully realized as music and not programmatic musical shmaltz. Then it takes on the purity and rigor of Bach or Satie.  

The Festival orchestra’s talented concertmaster, Robin Hansen, steps forward as soloist for the Violin Concerto, No. 4. In general, Mozart’s concertos present a perfect balance between the individual soloist and the orchestral ensemble. Here, the soloist has the best of it with plenty of opportunities to show off both emotionally and technically. The final movement is so imbued with the feeling of dance that Mozart later transformed it into the four contredanses, K.269b. Astoundingly, Mozart composed this accomplished piece when he was nineteen.  

With three masterpieces featuring orchestra, violin and piano, plus an undeservedly neglected early symphony, Program I of the Festival promises to be a delicious immersion into the creative realm of the greatest genius European music has ever produced. Look for my preview of Program II of the Midsummer Mozart Festival in next week’s issue of the Planet.  


Program I of the Midsummer Mozart Festival will be performed Thursday, July 15, 8 pm, Mission Santa Clara, SCU Campus in Santa Clara; Friday, July 16, 8 pm, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, in San Francisco; Saturday, July 17, 6:30 pm, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, in Sonoma (outdoors); and Sunday, July 18, 7 pm, First Congregational Church, in Berkeley. For more information call 415-627-9141 or visit .