By Stephen Cera
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – Imagine being a Mozart-lover and hearing live performances of his music by some of his most accomplished interpreters… at an annual festival in the composer’s scenic hometown nestled in the Austrian Alps. Then imagine those performances being given in an acoustic of one’s dreams.
Idle fantasy? Anything but.
Mozarteum Great Hall in Salzburg, Austria
Welcome to the Mozart-Week Festival, held each year since 1969 in the small city (current pop. 150,000) where the composer was born in January 1756.
I felt abashed at never before having attended this wonderful festival. The programs are intelligently conceived, then brought to life by artists such as Daniel Barenboim, Cecilia Bartoli, Sir András Schiff, the Vienna Philharmonic, Hagen Quartet, Mitsuko Uchida, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Vienna Singverein….the list goes on.
To be sure, Salzburg hosts other music festivals during the year. The most famous is the summer Salzburg Festival, which features superstar singers, illustrious instrumental soloists, marquee-name conductors and elite symphony orchestras. Concerts are given in the 2,179-seat Festspielhaus, and ticket prices can be stratospheric.
Then there is the Salzburg Easter Festival, and the Whitsun Festival. But the Mozart-Week Festival, with more than two dozen events spread over just 10 days, may be the jewel in the crown. (One day, I attended three superb concerts: at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m.)
Needless to say, I don’t plan to make this my final visit…
The town’s pace is more relaxed than in big cities. An international audience takes its Mozart seriously here, packing the theaters and listening intently.
On the first concert I attended, on January 29, Ms. Uchida’s immaculate and ebullient playing underlined the dynamic contrasts in two mature piano concertos: the jewel-like F-major, K. 459, and the D-minor, K. 466. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s superb solo winds in K. 459 set the table for a rare performance, between the concertos, of Mozart’s Horn Quintet with violin, two violas, and cello, K. 407. José Vicente Castelló Vicedo brought elegance and pinpoint accuracy to the taxing French horn line. In a lifetime of Mozart-listening, I’d never heard this piece live, only on recordings….and don’t expect to hear a finer rendition.
Future postings will follow the course of this remarkable festival.