The Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra season has come to a close. There is still plenty of Mainly Mozart to be had during the remaining 50 weeks until the next one but the orchestra is on hiatus.
The final concert on Saturday, June 24, stayed true to the brilliant programming that is becoming one of the hallmarks of the festival. There is a center that holds for each year and a tighter center to each concert that further anchors the experience.
The program began with an... interesting piece by Alfred Schnittke. Schnittke’s style was to freely move between styles. Some of the music was postmodern while other parts were obviously quoting and mimicking Mozart and Haydn.
The sections which were mimicking came off, to me, as more of a condescension than an homage. There are plenty of examples of quality homages to past styles.
We got one such homage this year with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. I'm hoping for Tchaikovsky’s love letter to Mozart via the String Serenade, or perhaps Grieg’s Holberg Suite in future festivals.
Schnittke’s music involved lighting effects and some marching and scurrying from the players. This also fell under the "interesting” category.
Mozart Piano Concerto 9
It was all done well, but it felt as though Schnittke was trying hard to be innovative. A composer who is innovative is one thing. A composer who is trying to be innovative is something else entirely. Even the title of the piece, Moz-Art à la Haydn is trying too hard.
Regarding Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9. Maestro Michael Francis addressed the audience, gave us permission to be a bit perplexed by Schnittke, and then assured us that the piano concerto we were about to hear was Mozart's first within the realm of his genius. That is the type of audience management that I admire and respect.
Stravinsky famously regarded Rachmaninov as a “six-and-a-half-foot scowl”. I shall, less famously, refer to Mozart as a five-and-a-half-foot giggle. Pianist, Javier Perianes, kept his touch light and on the giggle side until the second movement.
Maestro Francis had prepared us for the emotional magic which happens when Mozart uses a minor key and Javier Perianes turned the giggles toward the ““six-and-a-half-foot scowl.” Perianes had held us in a light and breezy vein for the first movement and then dug into the second movement as if it were Moz-Art a la Rachmaninoff.
The final piece for the festival orchestra was Haydn’s Symphony No. 45: Farewell. The piece was originally written as a statement during something of a labor dispute between Count Esterhazy, Haydn’s age of enlightenment patron, and his estate’s musicians. The concluding movement has the orchestra walk off stage a few at a time until none are left. Esterhazy got the point and acquiesced to the musicians' "requests.” Make no mistake, there were no musician's “demands” in the 18th Century.
I was prepared for pathos and melancholy and had prepared my little heart to be sad as the glorious orchestra evaporated from the stage. The orchestra went the exact opposite direction. They sat on the edge of the stage, cracked a few beers, took some selfies, and Maestro Francis showed he can still wield a double bass by picking up and playing the instrument as the player left.
It dawned on me that what had happened here in the micro is sorely needed in a macro scale for classical music. What is it that happened? A sense of play and humor with a foundation of love and respect for the music mixed with a towering artistry. Perhaps the best way to describe The Mainly Mozart Festival.