Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 249 years ago, on January 27 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. For several decades now, the members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra have celebrated his birthday first, for many years by presenting all-Mozart chamber music recitals by BPO musicians at the Lancaster Opera House. In more recent years, the celebration has moved to the main stage of Kleinhans Hall, and featured the entire BPO. This tradition continues this year with a pair of concerts on Friday January 15 at 10:30am and Saturday January 16 at 8pm with BPO associate conductor Stefan Sanders on the podium.
The music of Mozart is front and center, highlighted by a performance of his Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364 featuring BPO concertmaster Dennis Kim and BPO principal violist Valerie Heywood as soloists. The program also includes the BPO premiers of three works, including a pair of short works, by Haydn and Salieri. Wait just a minute—Salieri? Wasn’t he the composer who poisoned Mozart because of his jealousy of Wolfgang’s talent and success? So at least the British playwright Peter Shaeffer, following the lead of the early 19th century Russian author Alexander Pushkin, a playwright and novelist who is also considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet, would have us believe. Ever since the Czech movie director Milos Forman hired Shaeffer to adapt his script for the wildly successful, Academy Award winning 1984 film Amadeus, millions would agree that Salieri poisoned Mozart. The truth is, the character of Salieri that Pushkin developed for the purposes of his own play bore only a faint resemblance to the historical Antonio Salieri, who enjoyed far greater financial and employment success than did Mozart, in their respective lifetimes.
Stefan Sanders agrees, “But”, he says, “When was the last time you ever heard his music played live? It hardly ever gets performed. Like Haydn, Salieri was an extremely important figure in the classical era and this program seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to perform this overture. Interestingly, The Chimney Sweep (Rauchfangkerer) was Salieri’s early attempt at a German language opera for Emperor Joseph II, whom had also commissioned a German language opera from Mozart, his Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). It was Seraglio that prompted Joseph to boldly declare, ‘There are too many notes!’ To which Mozart replied, ‘There are just as many notes as there should be.’”
The composer Joseph Haydn, who basically invented the genres of both the symphony and the string quartet, had this to say about the young Mozart, to his father Leopold: “Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” So, it is altogether appropriate that a work by Haydn, in this case the Overture to his opera Orlando Paladino, will be included on this program. So, why did Sanders choose to premiere this particular overture with the BPO, from among the many hundreds of works by Haydn? “When I first heard it,” says Sanders, “I knew that it had to be on this program. You’ll see!”
Mozart’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, K. 22, a very early work, will also be a BPO premier. “The idea for the second half of this program is to juxtapose the young Mozart with one of his mature works, illustrating the incredible range of his genius and how it evolved as he developed as a person. As many of us know, Mozart was a child prodigy, performing and composing from a very early age. The Symphony No. 5 was written when he was just 9 years old. Though only seven minutes long, the work is fascinating.” Juxtaposed with the juvenile work is the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543, perhaps the least often performed of his three great, final symphonies, works written at the very end of life, without a commission that Mozart tragically never heard performed. “The Symphony No. 39 is sublime to me,” says Sanders, “It has no weaknesses and affirms what we already know that Mozart was an absolute genius. The audience will really see how Mozart evolved from the child prodigy we hear in Symphony No. 5, to the impassioned and accomplished, fully ripened master of the Viennese classical style in Symphony 39.”
Mozart composed his five concertos for violin and orchestra in 1775 when he was 19 years old, and they remain popular with both violinists and audiences, but they all must take a back seat to his Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola. While it is not exactly certain when he composed the work, it was probably in 1779, after his return from his trip to Mannheim and Paris. The solo instruments are treated as complete equals, which should come as no surprise since while Mozart was a superb violinist, he usually preferred to play the viola while performing chamber music. The bright and exuberantly soaring opening Allegro maestoso is followed by a deeply sensitive and heartfelt Andante, a rare minor mode middle movement that may reflect the composers sorrow following the unexpected death of his beloved mother in Paris. A feeling of irrepressible joy returns in the finale, a rondo marked Presto. “I can’t wait to perform the Sinfonia Concertante with Dennis and Val,” says Sanders. ‘They are tremendous musicians and wonderful colleagues and I learn so much from them. It is a great honor for me to perform this incredible work with both of them.”