By Nicole Rupersburg
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, classical contemporaries who played to the same fickle courts and Viennese crowds (separated only by their small difference in age and Mozart’s untimely death), are the world’s first true rock stars. Mozart, a child prodigy whose reputation always preceded him and whose infamy survives still some 200-odd years later; and Beethoven, a tragic yet brilliant figure with a reputation for profoundly expressive pieces and a codgerly—at times even tyrannical—disposition, could just as easily be brothers in brilliant compositional abilities, arduous artistry, and unsurpassed fame. Mozart—the older, more free-spirited, more prolific brother set the tone for the younger, eager, and equally talented (though tortured) Beethoven. Both composed works that have remained popular long after their deaths and that are considered some of the most recognizable and beloved music in the world.
Last weekend the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed selections from Mozart and Beethoven, two of the most influential men in the history of music and two of the greatest contributors to human culture, in a decidedly light program which consisted of Mozart’s Symphony No. 30 in D major and Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, as well as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major.
The program opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 30, with the world-renowned and in-demand Marek Janowski conducting. This work was one of the many products of the inspiration Mozart received from his contemporary Joseph Haydn, who had been working on a new kind of symphony the likes of which Mozart had never before witnessed. As a result, Mozart composed Symphonies No. 28, 29, and 30; un-commissioned pieces full of fervor and artistic freedom rarely seen in previous works of his. This particular piece is much lighter in tone and playful than the other two. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s performance was one of dancing dynamism and intense vitality; it was an agile performance of a flirty, zippy piece.
This was followed with another high-energy performance; Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. Though Mozart preferred the piano, he still paid homage to his early training and his father’s trade instrument by featuring the violin in numerous compositions and allowing it to play a prominent role. Violin Concerto No. 3 is an almost worshipful, expressive piece meant to showcase and honor this instrument, and allowing the soloist ample opportunity for serious showmanship.
The soloist here was Baiba Skride, an accomplished violinist hailing from Latvia and only 27 years old, and her performance was at once fluid and graceful, sharp and witty. The soloist’s work here is very demanding—quick and intricate and with little pause, the bow a constant flurry of short and violent yet beautiful movements. In another performer’s hands it might have sounded jerky or jarring; in Skride’s fluttering, skillful hands (and her Stradivarius “Wilhelmj” violin) the solo work had a flowing, dancing, rippling continuity. Performing without accompaniment for long, frenetic stretches of time entirely from memory, Skride’s reception by the audience was a little less exuberant than one might have anticipated. I can only assume it is largely because the majority of the audience was likely there to hear pieces by Mozart and Beethoven, and not hear them played by anyone in particular. Still, her performance deserved a thunderous applause which it did not receive—through words I offer it now.
The Violin Concerto No. 3 was followed by Intermission, and the program closed with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major. This is a fascinating piece, if for no other reason than its origination—written at the time when Beethoven truly began to realize the traumatic impact of his progressive hearing loss, the piece itself is actually at times slowly revealing, at times energetic, but never melancholy. This dramatically lyrical piece is highly engaging, both for the audience as well as the players. Conductor Janowski showed an obvious preference for this piece with his much more enthusiastic conducting, which had hitherto been significantly softer and toned-down, almost sleepy in style. The orchestra, too, seemed to have a great deal of fun while playing—during the joyously energetic finale, Assistant Concertmaster Hai-Xin Wu wore an enormous smile on his face which he simply could not contain, and the feeling seemed to be infectious.
A concert such as this, featuring the “rock stars” of classical music, tends to draw a more popular and trendy set of music lovers. The audience itself was a significantly younger crowd, full of people in their twenties and thirties who are apt to benefit greatly from the DSO’s forthcoming 37/11 program being launched later this month, through which young adults under age 37 can purchase select tickets in advance to DSO performances for only $11.00. To take advantage of this offer, you must first register at www.detroitsymphony.com/3711. There will also be more information available here at www.thedetroiter.com.
The pieces selected by the DSO for this program are actually not representative of what people think when they think of Mozart or Beethoven. Audiences typically relate to the highly dramatic, emotionally raw, tragically dark facets of these musicians’ work, yet both men wrote scores of compositions in a variety of genres, and the mood of their music ranges from the very light and playful to the darkly emotional and expressive. For as much pain there is in their music, there is joy; for as much mourning, hope. I commend the DSO’s slightly more daring choice of works to feature, in that they do not appeal to the popular conception of these men as tragic, tortured figures; these pieces highlight the artists in a much more playful, enthusiastic, fun light. And for as much as tragedy might provide the greatest inspiration, what kind of rock star doesn’t also have a little fun?
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