A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Greatest

I'm still mourning that incredibly gifted musical genius who died way too young.
Yes, he exhibited weird behavior. But what else would you expect from someone who was never allowed to have a normal childhood? He had an abusive father who put him on the road, playing concerts night after night ever since he was a little kid.
Ironically, though he was deeply in debt when he died, his music is now worth gazillions.
Michael Jackson? No, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
It's silly to say that one artist is greater than another. Is Vermeer better than Van Gogh? Is Aeschylus better than Shakespeare?
The only exception is music. Mozart was the greatest, period. And I say this with all due respect for Bach, Beethoven and the Beatles. They were sublime, but nothing can match Mozart.
He can touch places in the human heart that no one else can reach. His music is more beautiful, more moving, more powerful and more delightful.
And everything he wrote is absolutely perfect. You can't add or subtract a single note to any of his works without diminishing it.
When 19th Century conductor Hans Richter was asked, "Who was the greatest composer who ever lived?" he replied, "Well, there's Bach, of course, and Beethoven and Brahms and…"
"But what about Mozart?" his questioner interjected.
"Oh!" he said. "I thought you meant apart from Mozart!"
The best thing about Mozart is that you don't need a degree in musicology to "get" him, just as you don't have to be a movie buff to get "Citizen Kane" or "The Godfather."
The greatest works of art, whether Michelangelo's David, Louis Armstrong singing "Dinah" or, yes, Michael Jackson dancing to "Billie Jean," are instantly accessible. And so is Mozart's music. As soon as you hear it, you love it. It hits you on that primal a level.
But I should shut up. The best evidence is the music itself. As the great conductor George Cleve once told me, "Talking about Mozart too much tends to trivialize him. The only way to explain him is to play him for you."
And that's exactly what he's doing for the next two weeks. Cleve is the founder and musical director of the annual Midsummer Mozart Festival, which is celebrating its 35th season this year.
On the next two weekends, he and his colleagues - all of them world-class musicians, including pianist Seymour Lipkin, French horn player David Sprung and Cleve's wife, flutist Maria Tamburrino - will be playing nothing but Mozart, including the beautiful Horn Concerto No. 3, the delightful Flute Concerto No. 1, and Symphony No. 41, better known as the Jupiter Symphony, the greatest symphony ever written, bar none.
(If you don't believe me, wait until you hear the final movement, which is what George Bernard Shaw must have been thinking of when he said, "Mozart's music is the only music written by a human being that would not seem out of place in the mouth of God.")
The Midsummer Mozart Festival will present two different programs this weekend and next - at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 17 and 24, First Congregational Church in Berkeley on July 19 and 26, and locations in Sonoma and Santa Clara. Visit www.midsummermozart.org for more information.

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