Mozart for all

On the occasion of the 250th birthday of the exemplar pianist, a celebration of the Austrian artist’s music.

Violinist Matthew Truscott is the leader of the Israel Mozart Orchestra (photo credit: Courtesy)
Violinist Matthew Truscott is the leader of the Israel Mozart Orchestra
(photo credit: Courtesy)
No one counters the notion that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a genius. The Austrian composer was writing music by the age of five and accumulated a mammoth oeuvre before dying at the age of just 35.
Although Mozart did not end his days in the lap of luxury, his symphonies, operas, concertos and songs have maintained their popularity for over 200 years, and attract enthusiastic audiences all over the world. One of the many classical music events that honor Mozart’s work is the toujours Mozart Festival, which this year will take place at the Elma Arts Complex in Zichron Ya’acov, January 21 to 23.
The festival was launched in Germany in 1997 and takes place annually around Mozart’s birthday. The forthcoming threeday event is a joint venture between the International Foundation for the Promotion of Culture and Civilization of Munich, Germany, and the Elma Arts Complex.
The program covers a wide range of Mozart’s works, opening with Coronation Mass, K.317, one of the composer’s best-known works. This is a celebratory work which involves a large-scale production, including a choir, orchestra and soloists.
The instrumental ensemble in question is the Israel Mozart Orchestra, founded especially for the festival. It will be led by Matthew Truscott, principal violinist of the feted Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The members of the conductorless orchestra, most of whom are Israelis based here and in Europe, will play on period instruments in chamber style. For the choral works, the orchestra will be joined by the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
Also on the program is the Concerto for Two Pianos, K.365, with 80-yearold American pianist and musicologist Malcolm Bilson joining forces with Soviet- born, Germany-based Israeli keyboardist Zvi Meniker on fortepianos, the forerunner of the contemporary instrument.
BILSON, WHO specializes in 18th- and 19th-century music, an ardent fan of Mozart’s piano concertos, says that the quality of a particular manufacturer’s instruments may have prompted Mozart to put pen to paper.
“In 1778 Mozart goes to [Johann Andreas] Stein’s workshop in Augsburg [in Germany], and he sees the pianos of Stein and he writes three letters to his father which are very, very enthusiastic.”
It appears that the then-22-year-old composer was completely taken with Stein’s products.
“I think there are no letters from any composer, of any period about any pianos, that are more enthusiastic than Mozart is about these pianos. I think they, indeed, inspire him to write all these concertos,” says Bilson.
All told, the Austrian wrote 27 concertos for piano and orchestra. Like Bilson, Mozart attached great importance to his keyboard works, many of which he wrote for himself to play in the Vienna concert series of 1784-86. Surprisingly, for a long time they were not afforded the same acclaim as Mozart’s operas and symphonies, but the efforts of eminent scholars and players, such as early 20th century musicologists Donald Francis Tovey and Cuthbert Girdlestone, revived interest in the works and many of them are now frequently performed.
Bilson’s reference to Mozart’s penchant for Stein’s output is not just a matter of biographical importance. He says that the characteristics of a particular instrument can often dictate the compositional ethos, particularly when it comes to texture and volume instructions.
“I could talk at great length about the virtues of the piano Mozart liked, but it isn’t very loud,” continues Bilson.
“And, of course, the Steinway piano is very loud. I think this is a very, very important thing. Any good composer who is given, say, two commissions – one to write a trumpet concerto and one to write a flute concerto – will not write the same music, because the trumpet is very loud and the flute is not so loud.”
Bilson also notes that the volume of sound produced by one piano or the other, for example, can also dictate where the piano sits on the stage in relation to the orchestra. He suggests that if, for example, the soloist in a piano concerto is performing on a Steinway, in some cases it may be better to place the piano between the instrumentalists, to offset the possibility of the solo instrument drowning out the others.
“Whenever you get the trill [in the piano part] it’s because all the loud places are all in the orchestral tuttis [when all the orchestra members play together], not in the piano solo.”
The resulting constraints and logistics face composers with challenges but, says Bilson, can also spur the writer to higher levels of inventiveness.
“In a sense I think that one can say that Mozart’s piano concertos, including the one we are playing, are his greatest orchestral group of pieces. It is a more important group of pieces than the symphonies. He put more into them. Mozart’s last symphonies, obviously, [are great], but as a group the symphonies are not in the class of the piano concertos. The piano concertos and the operas [of Mozart] are the real great stuff.”
PHYSICAL LOGISTICS can also come into the performance reckoning.
“But, normally, I would think that Zvi Meniker and I will sit inside the orchestra,” Bilson muses. “I hope we will be able to do that. It is very much a question of how the hall is. If the stage is very much raised, and you put the pianos inside the orchestra, and leave the lids off, which is certainly what they did then [in Mozart’s time] – Mozart’s pianos had no lid sticks, either they were closed or they were off. If the stage is too raised, you need the lid, and then you probably have to put the piano out in the front. Ideally, the pianos are part of the orchestra. Of course we play continuo, we don’t just play in the solo parts.”
Bilson also believes one should get as close to the original circumstances as possible and perform works on instruments that are akin to the ones for which they were originally written.
For example, if given the choice, Bilson would opt for a Walter piano to play Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata, with the Steinway at the bottom of the piano list.
“But if I wanted to play Rachmaninoff, the Steinway would be my first choice,” he says, “and the Walter would be my least favorite choice. Having said that, I wouldn’t say you have to play Rachmaninoff only on Steinway pianos, but if you get too far away I think you lose some sort of basic aesthetic which moves these composers to write as they did.”
Elsewhere on the toujours Mozart Festival program there will be a cozy ensemble performance of possibly Mozart’s best-loved opera, The Magic Flute, complete with Hebrew commentary.
The festival will close with the A Beloved Symphony and a Rare Cantata concert, featuring the rarely performed cantata Davidde Penitente, most of which is derived from the unfinished Great Mass in C minor, with two arias and a cadenza for the last movement composed for the cantata. The concert will open with the ever-popular Symphony No. 40 in G minor.
The three day program should appeal to a wide range of tastes and levels of knowledge, with solo recitals, vocal programs, chamber music, dance workshops and lectures. There also the charmingly Mozart by Everyone egalitarian slot which enables musicians of all levels of expertise, and all ages, to offer their own rendition of a Mozart work.
For tickets and more information about events and accommodation: (04) 630-0123 and