Okay, so the science guys have backed down, and Mozart’s music no longer bears the seal of approval as a remedy for dumbness. Believe this if you will — you and the Times’ Mark Swed, who broke the sad tidings in his review of last week’s all-Mozart program at the Hollywood Bowl. I sat through this excellent program (on its Thursday-night repeat) rapturously rediscovering the intelligence that shaped every note in these three sublime works from over 13 years in their composer’s foreshortened existence. There was much cause for this rapture: the unforced eloquence in concertmaster Martin Chalifour’s delivery of the earliest of these works, the G-major Violin Concerto of 1775, and the way guest conductor Bernard Labadie managed and balanced the intricacies in one of the earlier symphonies (No. 34, from 1780) and, above all, in the miraculous “Jupiter” Symphony (No. 41, from 1788). Maybe it’s true that Mozart’s music won’t raise the IQ of those fortunate enough to fall under its spell, but it’s the best cure I know for self-importance. I couldn’t write any of this music, and neither could you.
It’s easy to fall into the mental set that relegates Mozart’s teenage output — the violin concertos, the early chamber music, the operas built around the conventions of rococo artifice — onto a lesser level of quality. Take this G-major concerto, however, and measure it against the voluminous output of the prolific craftsmen of the time — Boccherini for one, and even the formidable Salieri; the human voice through all three movements of this marvelous, original, perfectly formed music sings in a different language, and tells us a lot more than merely the shape of the C-major scale. Mozart builds his first movement around an ongoing dialogue between the solo violin and the orchestra’s first oboe — with no words, but so much on their minds! He starts off his slow movement with a tune that in its first bars seems to hang suspended, unsupported; only later the orchestra comes in under with its supporting harmonies. (This is a Mozart trick often used; both symphonies in last week’s program also begin their slow movements in the same way.) He interrupts the progress of his last movement with a whole ’nother episode that breezes in and then out again; we react to it as in a double take. How many violin concertos had you composed at 19?
Labadie, like Chalifour, is of French-Canadian origin. He was last here in April 2001, in a program of early Haydn symphonies with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He is written about as an early-music specialist, but visions of straitjacketed tempos and rigidity of phrasing that adhere to others under that epithet seem not to apply in his case. He apparently has his own ideas about when to observe Mozart’s specified repeats (the “Jupiter” Symphony) and when not to (the 34th); his phrasing — as in the opening of the “Jupiter” — tended toward the loose, the loving and the communicative. All evening, I had the distinct impression that Mozart and I were in direct communication and I was learning a lot.
Across Cahuenga Pass earlier last week there was chamber music at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, three substantial works performed by the young and proficient Calder Quartet. I love the Ford, and always have, even though chamber music has been only a small part of this summer’s offerings. The current setup, however, has not been designed to please admirers of intimate and subtle music making. Instead of the clear-plastic backdrop, which in previous years had reflected the music out into the audience without blocking the view of the forest behind, the performances the other night were amplified, excruciatingly so, and the lovely closeness of the place (which seats a mere 1,200, after all, as opposed to the Bowl’s 18,000) was destroyed. Before the program there was a rambling, doddering welcoming speech by old-time local concert promoter Gene Golden, which elicited exasperated glances from people around me. The printed program was a mélange of misinformation. Haydn’s “Rider” Quartet is in G minor, not D.
All this aside, along with a snapped string on Eric Byers’ cello — a legitimate setback — the Calder performed splendidly. The group was founded at USC in 1998 and has traveled widely, including two summers at the Aspen Festival and several dates in Europe. This coming season, the quartet will be in residence at the Colburn School. Benjamin Jacobson, Andrew Bulbrook and Jonathan Moerschel are the other members, all still in their 20s. The Haydn — an amazing work, with a slow movement that knocks on Romanticism’s door — was capitally played; Beethoven’s Third “Razumovsky” Quartet, with its dizzying perpetuum mobile finale, went almost as well. At the end they were joined by four more USC string players in the Mendelssohn Octet — endearing, youthful but unchallenging music that is actually beginning to wear rather thin.
Los Angeles needs a resident quartet; on the strength of this one hearing, the Calders are worthy of consideration. When I came here in 1980 the Sequoia Quartet was making the best noise in town. More recently we had the Angeles, which broke apart when first violinist Kathleen Lenski moved north; its compact-disc set of the complete Haydn is testimonial to its value. In Zipper Hall the city finally has a small-sounds venue that’s acoustically admirable and comfortable; the problem will be to fill it with sounds worthy of its sight. Yesterday’s mail brought news of a new project, Chamber Music Los Angeles, which is to reach young audiences with concerts, master classes, open rehearsals and hospital visits; the kickoff concert is at Zipper on September 28, with the Angeles resurrected this one time and a program that includes, need I add, the Mendelssohn Octet. Somebody around town should be marshaling similar benevolent music making for us grown-ups.