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

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mad About Mozart

A timely teapot saved the day at the Midsummer Mozart Festival's annual garden party in El Cerrito last Saturday.
The party is the traditional kickoff for the Festival itself, which will take place later this month.
Between the first and second movements of Mozart's great Quintet for Piano and Winds (the piece that first made me fall in love with Mozart when I was a teenager, by the way) concertmaster Robin Hansen turned to the audience and said, "Anybody got a rock?"
The problem was that the foot pedal attached to pianist Miles Graber's electric piano kept slipping out from underneath his foot, and they needed something heavy to anchor it in place.
Voila! Denise Sangster, who was hosting the party at her home, popped into the kitchen and emerged with an orange teapot filled with water. They stuck it behind the foot pedal, and Mozart's quintet proceeded without further ado.
As I sat back and drank in the delicious music, I was reminded that there's only one thing better than Mozart, and that's Mozart live.
Let's face it: Music is the king of the arts. (Why do you think musicians get the prettiest girls?)
Don't get me wrong: I love words. They're my stock in trade. And I love the visual arts, from Medieval to modern times.
But not even the greatest writers, like Shakespeare, or the greatest painters, like Rembrandt, can touch the places in the human heart, mind and body that music can.
If you don't believe me, when was the last time a good book made you want to get up and dance? When was the last time a painting made you weep for reasons you can't explain?
And the greatest music of all - and by "greatest," I mean the most fun - is Mozart's. It's so good, you don't have to know anything about music to be instantly captivated.
You don't have to be a music snob, either. Take me, for instance: I'm just an old rock'n'roller. But not even Jerry Lee Lewis singing "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" can match Mozart. Dude has chops!
The Festival will perform nine different pieces over two weeks, including the "Coronation" piano concerto, symphonies Nos. 20, 36 and 39, and the gorgeous clarinet concerto.
The concerts will take place July 14 & 21 at the California Theater in San Jose, July 15 & 22 at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, July 16 & 23 at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, and July 17 & 24 at Herbst Theater in San Francisco. For details and tickets, visit www.midsummermozart.org or call 415-627-9141.
This is Festival's 37th year, making it the country's longest running annual festival dedicated exclusively to Mozart. The performers include the cream of the crop of Bay Area musicians, who also play for such august organizations as the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera and Symphony Silicon Valley.
"But even though we play for those groups, these two weeks are the highlight of our musical year," says Hansen. "The music itself creates endorphins in people. Every year, I still get chills while performing certain pieces, and the audience does as well. I look in the audience, and I see people with eyes closed and a smile on their face."
P.S. Happy birthday to the Festival's artistic director, Maestro George Cleve, who turns 75 on Saturday.