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Mozart, Always

Pianist Enrica Ciccarelli

The BPO innovatively celebrates Mozart’s birthday anniversary

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts on Friday, January 17 at 10:30am and on Saturday, January 18 at 8pm feature the return of the orchestra and its music director JoAnn Falletta to Kleinhans Music Hall after a well earned break following the busy Christmas music season. In the past, the musicians of the BPO presented an annual concert of chamber music in the Lancaster Opera House celebrating Mozart’s birthday anniversary on January 27, 1756. While that long-running tradition has alas, gone by the wayside, the BPO has in recent years stepped into the breach, offering a January concert highlighted by one or more of the most popular works of Mozart.

Next weekend’s concert programs celebrating Mozart will break new ground. While the gifted Italian pianist Enrica Ciccarelli makes a welcome return to the classical series as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K.491, the concerts will feature, along with the performance of Jacques Ibert’s Hommage à Mozart, the area premiere of a genuine rarity, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1898 chamber opera Mozart and Salieri in a semi-staged version sung in English.

Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos, but only two of them, one of which is the Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, were written in a minor key. He composed the C-minor concerto while working simultaneously on his irrepressibly effervescent opera, The Marriage of Figaro. Many musicologists as well as music critics have made the observation that it seemed like Mozart had to occasionally vent his need to compose music in the darker, minor mode throughout his career. The often brooding nature of the music of this concerto contrasts vividly with that of Figaro, where the minor mode is very sparingly employed. Ciccarelli offered a memorably nuanced performance of another minor-key concerto, that of Edvard Grieg, when she performed in this series back in 2008, so her upcoming performance of the Mozart concerto is eagerly anticipated.

In another example of the kind of creatively innovative programming that has become a hallmark of BPO music director JoAnn Falletta’s leadership, the programming of Mozart’s C-minor concerto is ideally paired with the orchestra’s premier of Rimsky-Korsakov’s dark chamber opera, Mozart and Salieri.

The Italian composer Antonio Salieri is, as everyone knows, the person who confessed to murdering Mozart by poisoning him due to his all-consuming jealousy of Mozart’s seemingly inexhaustible musical gifts. Or so at least the English playwright Peter Shaffer would lead us to believe in his 1978 Tony award winning Broadway play Amadeus, which was later very successfully transferred to the cinema screen by the Czech director Miloš Forman, winning eight Academy Awards in 1984, including best picture.

The multiplicity of rumors about the death of Mozart that circulated during the 19th century and beyond bear a certain resemblance to the many and varied conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of JFK. Many of the unfounded speculations centered on the actual historical figure of Salieri, but the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Jacobins, the Carbonari, and eventually the Jews were all been implicated at one time, or another, in the death of Mozart.

Shaffer seems to have been most influenced however, by Mozart and Salieri, the short, one-act play written in 1830 by the Russian national poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin. While Salieri and Mozart are the only two characters in the play, one of four short plays by Pushkin published under the title of Little Tragedies, the emphasis is decidedly on the character of Salieri, whose psychological struggles are revealed in two lengthy soliloquies that may reflect Pushkin’s dissatisfaction with his own creative struggles and lack of financial success. Salieri was a highly successful composer of dozens of operas and he held the important post of Imperial Kapellmeister in Vienna, earning a lot more money than Mozart ever did. Pushkin rather improbably makes Mozart’s non-appreciation of his own divine talent for music, and his frivolous nature, the reason that Salieri murders his rival. Of course Shaffer’s Amadeus, in both its stage and film versions, takes up the idea of Mozart’s frivolous boorishness with a vengeance, in the process almost turning Mozart into a buffoon: stuff and nonsense.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, on the other hand, has been described by the New York Times as “a realistic psychological tragedy of small, but intense proportions, a work of verbal and emotional detail.” Unlike in Amadeus, Salieri actually does poison the composer, just before Mozart plays part of his just-composed Requiem for him.

The role of Mozart will be sung by tenor Jonathan Boyd, and that of Salieri by bass-baritone Darren Stokes, who made a very favorable impression when he appeared with the BPO last April in a performance of, interestingly enough, Mozart’s Requiem.

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