There will be many "mostly Mozart" music festivals throughout the country this summer; but there's only one dedicated exclusively to Mozart. And it's right here in the Bay Area.
It was founded in 1974 by Maestro George Cleve, one of the world's foremost Mozart intepreters, and his friends one night when they were kicking back with a few beers after rehearsing Mozart's opera, "The Abduction From The Seraglio."
"Wouldn't it be great if we could play nothing but Mozart all the time?" someone idly mused. They all looked at each other in amazement, and voila! The Midsummer Mozart Festival was born.
For more than four decades it has been serving up the greatest music ever composed – sorry, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms fans, but it is what it is - played by world-class musicians.
Two different programs will be presented over a two-week period. The first program will be at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford on July 16, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 17, and First Congregational Church in Berkeley on July 19. The second program will be at Stanford on July 20, San Francisco on July 24, and Berkeley on July 25. Visit midsummermozart.org to buy tickets and find out program details.
One of the most delectable offerings will be legendary pianist Seymour Lipkin playing Piano Concerto No. 27, K. 595, which happens to be Cleve's favorite. (Not for nothing does his email address start with gcleve595@........)
But for me, the highlight of the festival has to be Mozart's final symphony, No. 41, better known as the Jupiter Symphony. Mozart never actually called it that; it was nicknamed by an impresario named Johan Peter Salomon a few years after Mozart's death. But never was a moniker more appropriate.
The Jupiter is not only the greatest symphony ever written, the final movement is one of the most sublime moments in western art.
It's a marvel of musical virtuosity, in which Mozart attempted – and succeeded! - something nobody else ever dared: combining a fugue with a sonata in the same movement, with five different themes going all at once. Nobody could pull it off but him, but you hardly notice the skill because you're too busy being bowled over by the emotional impact.
Sir George Grove, who founded Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, wrote, "It is in the finale that Mozart has reserved all the resources of his science, and all the power, which no one seems to have possessed to the same degree with himself, of concealing that science, and making it the vehicle for music as pleasing as it is learned. Nowhere has he achieved more."
Let me put it another way. I've been hesitating to write this because you might think I've gone off the deep end, but I confess to feeling a stab of fear whenever I listen to that final movement because I'm always afraid I'll be turned into a pillar of salt for having listened to the voice of God.
There, I've said it. I know it sounds completely over the top, but listen for yourself and tell me if you don't feel that same apocalyptic rush.
But if you get turned into a pillar of salt, don't say I didn't warn you.