Arts & Events
I write this having just come from the remarkable first program of the Midsummer Mozart Festival, remarkable not least of all because of fourteen-year-old Audrey Vardanega’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K.467. I don’t believe I have ever heard a teenager play with both the facility and understanding that Ms. Vardanega displayed.
Leaving her age to one side, she played with the kind of freedom, authority and strength, especially in the first movement, that one expects from the world’s finest pianists. The movement of her hands during the Allegro maestoso was as beautiful to watch as the performance of a great dancer, while the notes flowed from her fingers with a brilliant poetic logic. The music became so transparent, that, if it had been jazz, I would have felt free to laugh out loud with delight. My only criticism, and that needs must be uttered sotto voce, would be that her interpretation of the Andante, the famous “Elvira Madigan” movement, veered ever so slightly towards the emotional instead of balancing its lyricism with the muscular rigor that Mozart included in the piece. But this is carping. The whole concert was magnificent and Program II promises to be just as excellent.
Speaking of age, my wife asked me why I so often give the age at which Mozart created his compositions since the music should stand on its own merits and not need special pleading. True enough, but there are reasons for wanting to know Mozart’s age when he composed particular pieces. If we look around for other examples of creativity in the very young, they are rare and instructive. There are many examples from math and chess of young geniuses, but these disciplines do not require the life experience component usually thought necessary for artistic creation. Then we might think of Chatterton or Rimbaud, both of whom wrote all their poetry in their teens, or of tap dancers like Sammy Davis, Jr., or Fayard and Harold Nicholas, creative performers in their youth as well as in their maturity. Remarkable as these people are, there is something preternatural about Mozart. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, he composed the Symphony No. 15 in G major, K.124, part of this year’s Program I; Divertimento in D major, K.136 (125a); Exsultate, jubilate, K.165 (158a); Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K.183 (173dB); Symphony No. 29 in A major, K.201 (186a); Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218, also featured in Program I; and Serenade No. 7 in D major, K.250 (248b), known as “Haffner.” Each of these pieces is a work of genius. Together, they could represent a lifetime’s achievement for any great composer, yet Mozart continued composing greater and more complex works every succeeding year of his brief life.
Program II of the Midsummer Mozart Festival will focus on just a few of these great pieces from Mozart’s mature years. Internationally renowned pianist Seymour Lipkin joins the Festival orchestra to perform two of Mozart’s wonderful late piano concertos. The Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K.488, is a well-known masterpiece with a moving adagio and virtuosic piano weaving in and out of the ensemble in the third movement. No. 25 in C major, K.503, is less well-known, but just as beautiful. Getting to hear Lipkin play both in one concert is a real treat.
Three less well-known pieces round out the program. Bass vocalist Jeremy Galyon will perform two of Mozart’s concert arias, Alcandro, lo confesso…Non so d’onde vieni, K.512, and Mentre ti lascio, K.513. The first, based on a text by Metastasio that he had already set to music for his early crush, soprano Aloysia Weber Lange, was newly written for the virtuoso Karl Ludwig Fischer who was the first Osmin in The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1778 Mozart had altered the text so Aloysia could deliver it as a mother to a son. In 1787, for Fischer, he returned it to the original father to son relationship.
K.513 was written for the amateur bass vocalist, Gottfried von Jacquin, a friend of the composer. Mozart found the text in Paisiello’s opera La Disfatta di Dario from 1777 where a father says goodbye to his daughter. These arias are rarely heard in concert and are hard to find on record, but they are undeservedly neglected since Mozart, who was simultaneously writing Don Giovanni, was at the height of his powers.
The evening will begin with Ballet music for Idomeneo, K.367. The first two parts, the Chaconne and Pas Seul, are particularly noteworthy for their variety of moods. The emotional movement is breathtaking as Mozart carries us without a false step through half a dozen changes of feeling and texture. The sense of surprise he achieves is on the level of Jelly Roll Morton’s Grandpa’s Spells or Sun Ra’s Enlightenment. Some years ago, when I first heard Maestro Cleve conduct this overlooked gem, he completely recast the five disparate pieces so that they became parts of a unified work. George Cleve is a masterful conductor who can transform an ensemble of well-trained players into a living, breathing music-making organism. Beyond technical excellence, there is also the question of conception. It is this personal combination of expertise, inspiration and insight that makes the Midsummer Mozart Festival such a treasure.
Program II of the Midsummer Mozart Festival will be performed Thursday, July 22, 8 pm, Mission Santa Clara, SCU Campus in Santa Clara; Friday, July 23, 8 pm, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, in San Francisco; Saturday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, in Sonoma (outdoors); and Sunday, July 25, 7 pm, First Congregational Church, in Berkeley. For more information call 415-627-9141 or visit www.midsummermozart.org .