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Classically speaking / Mozart madness

A birthday tradition returns, along with explorations of Schumann and Weill

The Verona Quartet makes its Buffalo Chamber Music Society debut on January 15

Photo courtesy of the Verona Quartet


With the sounds of the last Christmas carol having faded into the distance, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra opens the New Year, as has now become traditional, with a pair of concerts on January 26–27 celebrating the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756.) Two years ago, the BPO teamed with Irish Classical Theatre Company to present a concert stage production of Peter Shaffer’s multi-award-winning play Amadeus, with resounding success. Last year, the BPO invited five singers from the Juilliard School of Music’s Young Artists program to join the orchestra in musical selections from three of the composer’s greatest operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte, all expertly tied together by Fredonia School of Music soprano Julie Newell’s commentary as narrator. These are tough acts to follow, but BPO music director JoAnn Falletta has come through in fine fashion, programming a pair of rarities not performed by the BPO in many decades, along with a longtime favorite.


Mozart wrote his comic singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), K.486, in 1786 for the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, who had invited eighty guests to a private luncheon in the Schönbrunn Palace. It’s a parody based on the vanity of singers; the members of the cast argue over their status and pay in ways with which Mozart was no doubt well acquainted. Because of its short length, The Impresario is most often staged by local opera companies like our very own Nickel City Opera and Buffalo Opera Unlimited, which have both produced it within the past few years. Given the limited financial resources of small companies, the musical accompaniment to these productions tends to be slender, so it will be a genuine treat to hear the BPO perform this work, which it has not programmed since 1973.


Mozart composed his irresistible Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E-flat major, K. 364, when he was on a 1779 European tour that included stops in Paris and Mannheim, and the work has been a frequent and welcome visitor to the BPO Classic Series. What many classical music lovers may not be aware of is that Mozart composed another work in the sinfonia concertante format, the Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon, K. 297b, for four soloists and an orchestra composed of two horns, two oboes, and strings. Amazingly, the last time that the BPO programmed this work was well over a half century ago, back in March 1962. The recent addition of Henry Ward, the new principal oboe, and William Amsel, the new principal clarinet, as first-chair players in the already strong woodwind section of the orchestra—already anchored by longtime members Jacek Muzyk, principal French horn, and Glenn Einschlag, principal bassoon—provides an ideal opportunity to wipe the cobwebs off the score of this often overlooked gem.


Mozart had been acclaimed as a child prodigy when he first visited Paris fifteen years earlier, but that had all changed, and he had difficulty finding an audience. He wrote his father, however, that four visiting wind players from the Mannheim Orchestra, then the finest orchestra in Europe, had asked him to compose a new work to be performed in the Loge Olympique at the Concert Spirituel, the most distinguished orchestral series in Paris. Mozart gave a manuscript of the new work to the impresario of the venue for copying, but he put it aside and lost it, another example of Mozart’s perception that the Parisians’ plotted against him. In another letter to his father Mozart said that this didn’t matter, as he could recreate the work from memory. When a manuscript of the work turned up a century later, it was not in Mozart’s hand, and a clarinet part had replaced the flute part. While musicologists have argued ever since about how much of the work is really by Mozart, the rest of us can just enjoy the beautiful autumnal quality of this work.


The concert concludes with the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550, one of Mozart’s final three great symphonies. Often referred to as the “Great G minor symphony” to distinguish it from the “Little G minor symphony (No. 25),” the two works are the only surviving symphonies that Mozart composed in a minor key. While it was long thought that Mozart never heard any of his three last symphonies performed in his all-too-short lifetime, recent scholarship has challenged this view, and the final three symphonies remain his most frequently performed symphonies.


From left: Woodwinds Jacek Muzyk, William Amsel, Henry Ward, and Glenn Einschlag

Photo courtesy of the BPO


Kurt Weill’s Broadway

As part of a season-long exploration of Kurt Weill’s works in partnership with the University at Buffalo, on January 17, the BPO is hosting the newest Music Unwound program. Produced by Joseph Horowitz, it explores Weill’s creative output as one of the twentieth century’s most important immigrant composers. Soprano Lisa Vroman, joined by the vocal group Hudson Shad, is featured in Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, a work composed in 1933 to a libretto by Bertolt Brecht.


Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra

Last season, the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra (GBYO) toured to Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague. On January 30, the BPO continues a longstanding tradition when the student members of the GBYO, after coaching sessions with BPO musicians prior to each performance, join them on the main stage of Kleinhans Music Hall. The members of the Greater Buffalo Youth String Orchestra will perform in the Mary Seaton Room preceding the concert. Both events are free and open to the public.


Buffalo Chamber Music Society

The Verona Quartet, which makes its BCMS debut on January 15, has been hailed by the New York Times as an “outstanding ensemble.” The quartet represents four different nations: USA, UK, Singapore, and Canada. Its program includes old favorites, like Mozart’s Quartet in F Major K. 590, and Beethoven’s Quartet in F major, op. 135, written in October 1826 and the last major work that the composer completed. Two contemporary female composers also make their series debut when the quartet performs Dark Energy by Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy and Star-Crossed Signals by American composer Julia Adolphe.


The third and final installment in the BCMS’s Gift to the Community series, on January 13, features eighteen-year old cellist Zlatomir Fung accompanied by pianist Janice Carissa. Among his many competition victories, Fung was the first prize winner at the prestigious 2016 George Enescu International Cello Competition. His program includes a rarity—selections from the 11 Capricci for solo cello by Joseph dall’Abaco (1675 –1742)—as well as Bloch’s Baal Shem; Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor, op. 38; and the fiendishly difficult Sequenza XIV for Cello by Luciano Berio. This event is free and open to the public. Information: bflochambermusic.org


Buffalo Chamber Players

On January 31, the Buffalo Chamber Players offer as tribute to Robert Schumann a program of music that he composed in 1842. The composer’s wife, Clara Schumann, was a highly regarded concert pianist, and while she was concertizing in the early months of that year, Robert remained home, studying the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. When Clara finished touring and returned home at the beginning of April, Schumann was so happy and inspired that he ended up completing several chamber music works that have remained in the repertoire up to the present day. Musicologists often refer to 1842 as his “Year of Chamber Music,” a year in which he wrote his Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44 and Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 47, both of which will be featured on this program in the auditorium of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Information: buffalochamberplayers.org      


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