Father Sean Duggan plays the “Jeunehomme” piano concerto with the WNYCO
The BPO opens its season on Saturday, September 16 with a gala event a Kleinhans featuring the internationally famous German violinist Anne Sophie Mutter. The fall orchestral music season in Western New York begins a day earlier, however, on Friday, September 15 at 7:30pm when the Fredonia School of Music based Western New York Chamber Orchestra (WNYCO) opens its season in the first concert of a new residency at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. While the group has performed at the church previously, this concert inaugurates its official “residency” at Westminster Presbyterian, appearing as part of the church’s “Westminster Presents” concert series.
This free event, under the baton of New York City based conductor Glen Cortese, will feature a rare performance of the Concerto No.9 in E-flat major for Piano and Orchestra, K. 271, “Jeunehomme,” composed in Salzburg in 1777 when Mozart was 21 years old, featuring Fredonia faculty member Father Sean Duggan as soloist. Father Duggan is a past winner of the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition for Pianists and has performed the complete cycle of Bach’s keyboard works in tours of the United States and Europe. He has performed with such distinguished orchestras as the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Leipzig Baroque soloists, the Prague Chamber Orchestra, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The program also includes Ottorino Respighi’s colorful Trittico Botticelliano, a 1927 a tone poem inspired by the three greatest paintings of the Italian Renaissance artist Botticelli, in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence: La Primavera, L’Adorazione dei Magi, and La nascita di Venere. WNYCO conductor Glen Cortese will also introduce his new orchestral edition of the Children’s Corner, originally written as a six-movement suite for solo piano by Claude Debussy. Any newly orchestrated work by Cortese is bound to be both idiomatic and interesting, as anyone who was lucky enough to hear his new, highly successful version for chamber orchestra of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde at Fredonia a couple of years back can testify.
While the BPO has programmed many Mozart piano concertos, some repeatedly, it has, somewhat surprisingly, only featured the Jeunehomme concert twice, first in 1967 with Charles Rosen as soloist, then most recently in 1981, when John Browning was the soloist. Father Duggan shared his thoughts about the work: “This concerto, K. 271, written in Salzburg and thus a rather early work, is certainly the first great masterpiece that Mozart wrote for the piano concerto genre. In the past it has often been overlooked, perhaps overshadowed by the later great concertos of Mozart’s Vienna years. But I think recently it has been receiving more of its due in concerts and recordings. I’ve always felt a special love for it, for several reasons: the initial intrusion of the piano at the beginning of the orchestral tutti (so prophetic of Beethoven and others); the beauty of the themes and the ways they are worked out; and, especially, the tragic second movement which shares much in common with the slow movement of another favorite Mozart piece of mine, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin & Viola (K. 364). Also, the way Mozart interrupts the frenzy of the last movement by slipping a noble minuet into the middle of it, so very original and unique.”
“I love to play any piece by Mozart” says Duggan. “The music itself is always delightful, melodious and full of surprises, interesting turns of harmony and melody. I think that Mozart’s finest piano writing is found in his mature piano concertos – after all, he wrote them for himself as vehicles for showcasing his own amazing artistry and virtuosity. Very often they contain contrapuntal and imitative passages which remind us of the impact that Bach and Handel had on his musical thinking (thus the connection with any lover of Bach). These concertos are difficult to perform well (even a little scary!) because they are very transparent – all the notes are important and there are no places for the player to ‘hide’. They are real proving grounds for a pianist’s technique, clarity and musicality. I’ve played this concerto on two previous occasions with different orchestras. I’ve worked on several other Mozart concertos but have only performed one other one, the final one, with an orchestra. Of the solo piano works I’ve played many of the sonatas, rondos and variations, which are always a challenge but also always a joy.”
“Playing Bach teaches one not only how to think but also how to ‘feel’ contrapuntally”, Duggan explains. “There’s a feeling that you get into your hands that enables you to play two or three active melodic lines at once. This comes into Mozart – and all other music, actually – as enabling one to bring out one line over other simultaneous lines, and to have the tools to make decisions about what should be brought out and what should be more in the background. Bach’s music also teaches us a lot about articulation, which notes to detach and which ones to connect, and this ability is also crucial in Mozart. All the great composers after Bach, Mozart included, were influenced by Bach’s handling of counterpoint and harmony, and they all acknowledged this. That’s why we consider Bach to be the foundation of everything that came after him. So, hopefully, my playing of Mozart is better because of my playing of, and love of, the music of Bach. I’m really looking forward to performing this great concerto with Maestro Cortese and the wonderful group of musicians that make up the Western New York Chamber Orchestra”.
Friday’s concert at Westminster Presbyterian is free. This concert will be repeated on Sunday, September 17 at 4pm in King Concert Hall on the SUNY Fredonia campus. Students of all ages receive free admission for the Fredonia event. Adult tickets are $20 for the Fredonia event only.