The End of Mozart
Someday I will have my own music school, and the course I will teach will be devoted to Mozart, one movement at a time per semester. I would start with the slow movement of the D-minor Piano Concerto (K. 466), which was on the Hollywood Bowl program last Thursday, and I’m not even sure that one semester would be time enough to expound on the reasons for being in love with this music.
You have to start with the setting. The colossal grump of the first movement has receded into shadows. Now comes a single solacing voice, the piano, with its little tune like candy wound around a stick; smiling, the orchestra echoes. Not much later (measure 40 if you’re following along), the true magic occurs: the piano alone in the simplest of one-finger tunes, over the lightest of orchestral throbbing. It could be Susanna at her marriage to Figaro, or Pamina handing off the Magic Flute, but Mozart doesn’t need words this time . . .
Okay, you’ll have to wait and take the course; just know for now that this is the kind of thing that happens in slow movements of Mozart’s piano concertos — try also K. 467 or 482, and 488 will break your heart. Shai Wosner, a young pianist from Israel with very long fingers that showed up well on the video screens, was the evening’s commendable pianist, not yet in the suspended animation that the slow movement demands — check out the Alfred Brendel recording for that — but certainly a young man worth watching. He used the Beethoven cadenzas in the first and last movements; not many pianists do, because they’re scary. They are oversize, adventurous rhapsodies on the music that the young Beethoven, recently arrived in Vienna and anxious to make his mark, had fashioned for a memorial concert organized by Mozart’s widow.
This was the last event of Nicholas McGegan’s four-concert “Grand Tour,” and it brought the vagrant Mozart home to Vienna for his “Jupiter” Symphony, the last of the three he composed in a miraculous burst of energy in six weeks in 1788. The program began with a set of sneeze-length Contradances that Mozart ground out to bring in bread and butter, sometimes recycling tunes from operas. The “Jupiter” was properly grand, with all the big repeats respected — when did this last occur at the Bowl? — and the contrapuntal finale taken at a considerate pace so that the monumental pileup at the end — all five themes in a simultaneous contrapuntal tangle — could be savored and marveled at.
The turnout was close to 10,000, twice the usual crowd for a Thursday Classics event. Not a single aircraft polluted the sky this night. Something about the size of the Mozart orchestration, even at its maximum in this “Jupiter” Symphony, seems exactly the right size for the Bowl. There is no more Mozart on this summer’s schedule, however.
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When I got to the Disney Hall box office Friday night, there were only two tickets left, at $150, and several screaming expostulators. If nothing else, this first-time-on-Earth appearance by the “Rumi Symphony Project Cycle Number One” represented some kind of public-relations triumph. They put it on, you came, and boy-oh-boy did you yell yourselves hoarse over Lord-knows-what.
That title itself should raise eyebrows. Major Rumi projects have fared badly here before; the 1998 Philip Glass–Robert Wilson slide show to open the rebuilt Royce Hall ranks as one of the area’s major fiascoes. Now the venerated Persian poet is being honored for his 800 years; the symphony, however, is an art form of a mere 250. Why connect the two? Apparently today’s bridge builders aren’t that easily fazed. In amassing his “Rumi Symphony” project (not all that symphonic, since only nine musicians were involved last Friday), a certain Hafez Nazeri has proclaimed his inspiration from the words of the great poet. He is aided in this in that he is the son of Shahram Nazeri, the internationally acclaimed Iranian vocalist, singer and improviser to the poetry of Rumi, who, according to a press release that — although I haven’t tested it personally — is probably meant to glow in the dark, has been hailed as the “Persian Nightingale” and “Iran’s Pavarotti.”
What the younger Nazeri has done, from the evidence of Friday’s concert, is to absorb some of the melodic and harmonic idiom of his Persian heritage, spread it around a mix of indigenous and symphonic players (led off in a throbbing solo by Philharmonic cellist Ben Hong) and compose big Western-style music with this material. There’s nothing new about this; check out Rimsky-Korsakov’sScheherazade, a successful if cornball Persian symphony. Maybe Nazeri didn’t use as big an orchestra as Rimsky-Korsakov, but Rimsky didn’t have microphones. Most bothersome was that he had, somehow, enlisted his father’s participation in this ersatz Orientalia. At the start of the program’s second half, however, the elder Nazeri took the stage alone, and for about 15 minutes sang his own, and the poet Rumi’s, freeform, rhapsodic music, which broke free of all the contrivances, the fakery of the rest of the evening’s music. Neither Pavarotti’s nor a nightingale’s, his voice was dark, rich, throbbing — the sound of a whole man’s soul. For those few minutes, an elderly man stood alone on a darkened stage, sounding forth with eloquence and pride the lyric poetry of his heritage, made us all happy to be there, and turned what might otherwise have been simply filial insults into some kind of art.