A bit of the bubbly
Music in the Mountains celebrates Mozart’s anniversary


by Judith Reynolds

The musical world has gone ga-ga over the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Well before 2006, marketing machines cranked into motion scheduling Mozart performances all over the globe. That includes our own summer festival, Music in the Mountains, where 19 M-works pepper the schedule.

Last Tuesday’s chamber concert, “Mad About Mozart,” was an all-Wolfgang affair except for Salieri’s “Overture to La Scuola de Gelosi.” It must have slipped in the back door.

In another programming sleight of hand, Mozart’s “Overture to the Marriage of Figaro” enjoyed two very different outings. In the Conservatory Faculty Recital on June 19, duo pianists Steven Hall and Annie Lin let loose a sparkling, four-handed version. With arms and hands crossing at dangerous speeds, the pianists uncorked Mozart’s joyous whirlwind. For maximum contrast, Hall and Lin set Mozart’s bubbly between Debussy’s spare “Petite Suite” and two smoldering works by Rachmaninoff.

The orchestral version of Figaro’s Overture opened the July 23 concert in the festival tent. Guest conductor Joel Revzen set a sprightly tempo as if to keep up with the patter of rain on the tent. After intermission, Revzen strolled on stage with violinist Vadim Gluzman for an effervescent performance of, what else? Mozart’s “Rondo in C for Violin and Orchestra.” A steady, light rain and occasional thunder added unscored percussion to Mozart’s musical filigree. Gluzman rolled his eyes a few times, but the musicians played on.

At 5 p.m. this Sunday, July 30, the biggest Mozart celebration in terms of numbers will take place. The Festival Orchestra, soloists and combined regional choirs will perform the “Mass in C (Coronation Mass)” in the Community Concert Hall. Here’s a disclaimer: I’m participating. If you read on, allow for bias.

The name of the Mass is misleading. “Coronation” sounds as if the music was composed for a monarch. Not so. The informal title became a nickname for the “Mass in C (K. 317),” a work composed in 1779. Mozart commemorated an annual event held in a pilgrimage church outside Salzburg. The event centered on the symbolic crowning of an image of the Virgin housed in the church. When you hear the piece, the small-potato reason for its existence fades in comparison to what can only be called a musical feast.

A short but dramatic Kyrie opens the work, one of some 27 Kyrie settings that Mozart composed in his lifetime. It doesn’t have the solemn grandeur (or length) of the more famous “Requiem Kyrie.” But the Coronation’s opening number introduces a Mass of enormous energy and ebullience. Standard sections follow the Kyrie and are endlessly inventive. The Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and, finally, Dona Nobis Pacem are all built on an elaborate but transparent structure punctuated by sudden changes in tempo, tone and intensity.

Music in the Mountains is known for finding terrific soloists, and this concert is no exception featuring soprano Gemma Kavanagh, mezzo soprano Jacqueline Zander-Wall, tenor Andreas Tischhauser and baritone Ethan Smith. Singers from the Durango Choral Society will be joined by the Albuquerque Festival Singers. The Pagosa Springs Community Chorus was scheduled to complete the three-part, 130-voice chorus, but Pagosa withdrew in mid-July. Hmmm.

The remaining choral groups have been prepared by two conductors. C. Scott Hagler leads the Durango Choral Society, teaches at Fort Lewis College and is minister of music at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Brad Ellingboe is professor of music at the University of New Mexico.

Ellingboe’s relatively new work, “Revelations for Chorus, Brass, Timpani and Organ,” will open the concert program. “Revelations” has three movements set to Biblical texts. Each honors someone important to the composer. While elegiac in nature, “Revelations” ends on a note of hope. The piece will be performed by Ellingboe’s Albuquerque singers and orchestral musicians.

This week after months of rehearsal, Ellingboe and Hagler have turned their respective choral groups over to Mischa Semanitzky, festival founder and director. The business of preparing singers for a concert to be conducted by yet another leader is an art in itself. For starters, Ellingboe and Hagler used all their rehearsal skills to teach and then polish Mozart’s music. Many singers had not sung this particular Mass before. The goal is always to learn the music cold and be prepared for different dynamics, tempi and interpretation.

Semanitzky is known for what might be called an idiosyncratic conducting style. To state the obvious, every musician will be on high alert.

After all, this is truly great music, and the musicians are not maxed-out on Mozart. Besides, the concert closes with an even bigger work than the Mass: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Premiered in Moscow on Aug. 20, 1882, the overture today is just a few weeks shy of marking its 124th anniversary. Time for a new marketing campaign: Mostly Tchaikovsky. •