Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mozart @ 255

Since at least 2005 the Toronto Symphony has been celebrating the month of Mozart's birthday with a Mozart festival, numbered based on what would have been his age.  This year I attended the last show of the series on Jan. 30 entitled Mozart's World.  The orchestra was set up differently from the usual layout.  The first violins were in the usual place, but the seconds sat on the opposite side of the stage facing them.  Beside the 1st's were the cellos, and then the violas beside the 2nd's with the basses behind the cellos.  I'm guessing with was the typical layout in Mozart's day?  Bassoons, clarinets, horns, minimal brass and percussion rounded out the rest of the orchestra, coming and going as called for by the pieces.

The concert opened with the overture to Les Horaces, an opera by Salieri!  Certainly part of Mozart's world, although as it turns out not as detrimental to Mozart as things like the movie Amadeus would have one believe.  For some great back story on Mozart and Salieri check out the Jan. 17, 2011 NACOcast episode.  As conductor Peter Oundjian said at the end of the overture "so you've now heard a public performance of music by Salieri.  It's really quite good.  The rest of the opera wasn't so we stopped here".

The afternoon also included one of Mozart's most famous pieces "Eine Kleine Nechtmusik", the "D major Concerto for Double Bass" by Johann Baptist Vanhal performed by principal double bassist Jeffrey Beecher, and Mozart's "Concerto in C major for Oboe", performed by principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey.  The performance concluded with Haydn's Symphony 8, "Le Soir".   I really enjoyed hearing the other 3 movements to "Eine Kleine", the opening Allegro is so familiar that it's easy to forget there's a Romance, Menuetto and Rondo which follow.

courtesy Silk Road Project site
The double bass concerto was awesome!  The music was very relaxing yet not sleep inducing.  Being in a lower range it didn't carry the way a flute can soar over the orchestra but the balance was well executed in that the orchestra didn't over power the solo and let Jeffrey shine.  Who knew the bass had the range that it did?  At times it seemed more in the range of the cello, and even higher when he was playing at the very end of the finger board.  I believe there was a cadenza at the end of each movement and he really demonstrated what an excellent bass player can do with the instrument.  It's a shame it's not used virtuosically (if that's even a word) more often.

William Littler, a journalist with the Toronto Star, hosted an intermission chat with Jeffrey in the lobby.  Peter Oundjian had mentioned he, as a violinist, looked at the bass like driving a city bus around a Formula 1 track.  Jeffrey modified this to how he thought of it more as a Hummer.  When asked why these bass pieces aren't performed more often, he slightly insulted previous bass players by saying perhaps they didn't gain as much skill as they could have on the instrument to be able to perform some of the concertos written.  Of which I think he said there are only three; two by Vanhal and one by someone else.  His bass is from 1690 and the owners can be traced all the way back to its origins.  If he has to travel, he drives with the bass or it gets its own seat on the airplane.  Understandably, something that valuable does not get put in checked luggage.  Since the TSO just returned from touring Florida, I wonder if he borrowed an instrument or took his?  I always enjoy seeing musicians outside of the stage lights, and Jeffrey demonstrated his amiable nature while discussing his work with YoYo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and his teaching job.  Thanks to him for taking the time to share with the audience more about himself and bass playing.

courtesy TSO
After intermission Sarah Jeffrey showed off her beauty as well as that of the oboe.  She looked very pretty in a long black dress.  One would never know she had a 3 month old baby (she's married to a French horn player) unless Peter Oundjian had mentioned it.  I've often considered the difference between the oboe and clarinet to be the more nasal sound of the oboe compared to the hollowness of the clarinet.  However, in higher ranges and in the hands of a real professional the nasal goes away and it can have a more flute like quality.  Her cadenzas were also impressive.

I don't recall hearing a full Haydn symphony before.  In fact all I know about Haydn was that he wrote a ton of them and a friend of mine did a project on him in grade 9 music.  She actually attended this concert with me, but couldn't remember much about Haydn either.  I enjoyed "Le Soir" and need to look up the other symphonies Peter mentioned, "Le Matin" and "Le Midi".  Again the balance between the orchestra was well executed.  There were violin (1st and 2nd), cello, and bass solos at various points, and all could be heard clearly.  The final movement, "The Storm", really sounded like one.  I'm glad it stayed in the hall and we didn't walk out to thunder, lightning or snow!

Looking forward to Mozart@256!

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