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2016-2017 Season / Casual / Selections From Amadeus: The Music of Mozart
All performances at 2:30pm at St. Paul's Syracuse
casual3 mozart statue

Xak Bjerken | PIANO
Heather Buck | SOPRANO
Timothy LeFebvre | BARITONE

Selections From Amadeus: The Music of Mozart

This concert features music from the Amadeus soundtrack, including grief stricken piano concerto No. 20, turbulent Symphony No. 25 and the famous Queen of the Night Aria.


Abduction from the Seraglio Overture
Piano Concerto No. 20
Queen of the Night Aria
Ein Maedchen oder Weibchen (Papageno)
Symphony No. 25

Selections From Amadeus: The Music of Mozart

2:30pm | St. Paul's Syracuse
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Symphoria 2016-17 Season: Booklet II: CASUAL III


Program Notes


March 12, 2017


It’s well known that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was murdered by rival composer Antonio Salieri, who envied both Mozart’s success and Mozart’s genius. It’s well known—even though it happens to be entirely untrue. This bit of fake news has been around, in various guises, for more than two centuries, finding artistic expression toward the beginning of the nineteenth century in Pushkin’s dark short play Mozart and Salieri (later turned into a chilling chamber opera by Rimsky-Korsakov) and toward the end of the twentieth in Peter Schafer’s Amadeus, especially in the film version of his popular play. Indeed, Amadeus leaned on this theme so heavily, and the film had such an impact on the popular imagination (it won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture), that it seems the story of Salieri’s murderous impulses will never stand corrected.

So why are we spending this afternoon celebrating a bit of egregiously false history? For two interconnected reasons.

First, while the film may have over-dramatized, romanticized, and falsified the facts of Mozart’s life, it nonetheless managed to make audiences fall in love with the eccentric composer as a person. Yes, the Mozart in the film is at times churlish, coarse, and even oddly immature. But his fallibility (in everything except his composition), his exuberant sense of life (even, to a large extent, when he was ground down by poverty), and his unflinching commitment to his music and to his wider audience (although not necessarily to his noble patrons) all made him seem both human and immediate. Classical composers are often treated with a kind of reverence that, frankly, makes them seem boring. Shafer, however, removed all piety from Mozart’s image: in fact, his flippancy and profanity were precisely what the movie Salieri hated most about him. And because of this artistic choice, Amadeus managed to bring Mozart back into our world.

As for the second reason for celebrating the film: more than most movies about musicians, Amadeus made our pleasure in the music its primary goal—in part by treating the music itself with both enthusiasm and respect, in part by tying it to such a loveable character. When you come out of the film, all you want to do is hear more Mozart.

This concert responds to that appetite by revisiting some of the works featured in Amadeus—but in a slightly different way. I said above that the music in the film was treated with respect—and it was. It wasn’t, however, always treated with integrity. Apparently, music supervisor Sir Neville Marriner agreed to participate only if there were no alterations to Mozart’s music—but while that obviously applied to things like harmony and orchestration, it clearly didn’t apply to formal changes. The soundtrack is full of slices and splices: virtually everything in the film is cut; and in spots, the music suddenly leaps from one part of a piece to another—even from one piece to another. This afternoon, we’ll have a chance to hear Mozart without these distortions.

We focus on two dramatic minor-key works. The main work on our first half is the Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 464 (1785), the first of only two concertos Mozart wrote in a minor key. Mozart is often considered, along with Haydn, as an icon of the classical idiom—but especially in this dark work, perhaps his most Beethovenian, he looks ahead to the romantic style. (Beethoven in fact performed the work as piano soloist and wrote cadenzas for it). Mozart used the key of D Minor rarely, and when he did, as in Don Giovanni and the Requiem, it had the most turbulent emotional undertones. This concerto is not a violent work as Don Giovanni is; but from the throbbing opening measures, there’s an underlying tension, a tension magnified by the constant sense of strain between the piano and the orchestra. The second movement romance lightens the tone a bit, but it’s forlorn rather that sunny. In fact, parts of it were used to add a shade of resignation to the final credits of the film. And until its closing pages in D Major, the finale is, if anything, more intense than the first movement.

Our soloist, Xak Bjerken, learned this concerto after seeing Amadeus as a college student. The image of the horse and carriage driving through the snow, and the masked man who torments Mozart, left a lasting impression. “Mozart could tap into both insecurity and fear on one hand, and sweet ebullience on the other—those qualities of his and our lives are the same. What a pleasure it is to return to this amazing work.”

The concert closes with Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183 (1773). As is the case with his concertos, there are only two Mozart two symphonies in minor keys. The more familiar one, the Symphony No. 40, was composed just a few years before he died; the one we’re playing today is from fairly early in his career. Written under the influence of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) symphonies, it has many of the same general characteristics as Haydn’s Symphony No. 44, composed just a few years earlier and heard on our previous casual concert. Of particular importance in creating the music’s effects are the urgent rhythms (note the lashing syncopations at the very beginning, which return in modified form in the finale) and the severe melodic lines. But for all the Haydn influence, it’s very much a Mozart work—no one else, for instance, could have penned the wonderful wind octet (the work includes four horns) that serves as the trio of the third movement.

To conductor Larry Loh, this symphony represents “the dark side of Mozart’s life”—and the concerto is certainly no lighter. We therefore leaven the angst of these works with a clutch of shorter pieces, all extracted from German-language singspiels (plays with music that fit somewhere on the spectrum between operas and musicals). We begin with the overture to one of Mozart’s early theatrical successes, The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384, first performed in 1782. There’s no space here to give a full summary of the opera. Suffice it to say that despite its flirtation with a variety of clichés about Islamic culture, the opera does find its happy resolution in a kind of cross-cultural understanding that would be surely welcome today. The overture is one of Mozart’s spiffiest pieces. Using piccolo, triangle, cymbals, and bass drum, Mozart imitates, in what Larry calls “precisely his own way,” what sounded to Europeans of the time like “Turkish” music—to exhilarating effect.

Between our two major works, we have two excerpts from The Magic Flute, K. 620 (Mozart’s last-completed major work, composed in 1791). One is a popular, folk-song-like aria (Beethoven used it for a set of variations for cello and piano) by the hero’s sidekick, the bird-catcher Papageno, as he sings about his longing for a wife. The other is what stands as perhaps the model for vocal virtuosity, the Queen of the Night vengeance aria from Act II, which calls for elaborate vocal acrobatics—including leaps to a high F. It’s shows up well before the end of The Magic Flute, but it’s certainly the aria that brings down the house.

Peter J. Rabinowitz

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Artist Information:

Xak Bjerken

Pianist Xak Bjerken has given solo and chamber music recitals in Europe and throughout the United States. Orchestral solo appearances include Edinburgh with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Rome with the Spoleto Festival Orchestra and in Disney Hall, Los Angeles, with members of the LA Philharmonic. He has performed at the Royal Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam, Alice Tully Hall, Weill Hall, the Kennedy Center, and has given recitals in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Hungary. Mr. Bjerken is the pianist of the Los Angeles Piano Quartet, which tours the U.S. regularly, and with his wife, pianist Miri Yampolsky, directs MAYFEST, an annual chamber music festival in Ithaca, New York. In addition, he has directed three festivals of twentieth-century music: “Angels, Saints and Birdsong: A Messiaen Festival,” “Through the Iron Curtain: Music of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union,” and “The Stravinsky Project.”

Mr. Bjerken has held chamber music residencies at the Tanglewood Music Center and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, performed at the Olympic Music Festival and the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, and served on the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival. His first solo recording for CRI, released in 2001, was entitled High Rise; he has also recorded for Chandos, Albany Records, Fleur de Son, and Koch International and has made three recordings with violist Michael Zaretsky for the Artona label. Mr. Bjerken earned his bachelor’s degree cum laude at UCLA, studying with Aube Tzerko, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the Peabody Institute as a student and teaching assistant to Leon Fleisher.

Heather Buck

Praised as “the kind of performer who makes it all look easy,” Heather Buck has established herself internationally as a consummate singing actress, “combining agile, liquid soprano, a bright, natural stage presence, and the timing of an expert comedienne,” (Opera News). She performed as Lulu Baines in Elmer Gantry with Florentine Opera, which was recorded for the Naxos label (released in 2011), received two Grammy awards, and was voted No. 1 by Opera News “Best of the Year”.

In the 2016-17 season, Heather Buck is Ku in the world premiere of Prestini’s Gilgamesh with New York’s Beth Morrison Projects, Persephone in the world premiere of Julian Wachner’s Rev. 23 at Prototype Festival, soloist in Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 5 with the Washington Chorus at the Kennedy Center, and joins Opera America’s New Works Forum with performances at Town Hall, New York. In the summer of 2016, Heather Buck was soloist in the American premiere of Lachenmann’s Das Mädchen Mit Den Schwefelhölzern at Spoleto Festival USA, and in the 2015-16 season she reprised the Maid in Adès’ Powder Her Face with Bilbao’s Teatro Arriaga Antzokia. In the 2014-15 season, she returned to Nashville Opera as Musetta in La bohème, to Florentine Opera as Isabella Linton in Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights, sang Argento’s “Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night” with Odyssey Opera of Boston, and was soloist in Felder’s Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux and Saariaho’s Leino Songs with the Center for 21st Century Music (Buffalo and NYC).

Ms. Buck holds a Master of Music degree from Yale, where she studied with Doris Yarick-Cross. She received her B.A. in music from Tufts University and a B.F.A. in studio art from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Timothy LeFebvre

Nationally acclaimed baritone Timothy LeFebvre has wide-ranging experience from the operatic stage to the concert hall. Recent performances include a premiere of Donald McCullough’s The Essential Life with the Reston Chorale, Durufle’s Requiem with Susquehanna Valley Chorale, a solo recital at Oberlin Conservatory, Vaughan-Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and Dona nobis pacem with Berkshire Choral Festival, solo recitals at Carnegie Mellon University and the Townsend School of Music at Mercer University, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with Pensacola Symphony and Oberlin Conservatory, Britten’s War Requiem with Jacksonville Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Westminster Choir College, and Mozart’s Requiem with West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

LeFebvre has appeared in concert with the Jacksonville Symphony, Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Wichita Symphony, Pensacola Symphony, West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Vermont Symphony, Minnesota Symphony, Syracuse Symphony, American Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Spokane Symphony, Binghamton Philharmonic, Rochester Bach Festival, Berkshire Choral Festival, New Dominion Chorale, Williamsport Symphony, Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, Syracuse Chamber Music Society, the Skaneateles Festival, and the Marlboro Music Festival. He has also appeared in concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall.

LeFebvre is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Binghamton University and is currently Associate Professor of Singing at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Future performances include Ravel’s Don Quichotte a Dulcinee, Brahms’ Requiem and Vaughan-Williams’ Five Mystical Songs at Oberlin Conservatory, Dvorak’s Requiem in Binghamton, and Messiah with Wichita Symphony in December.

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