Chamber Music Review

BMC: Mozartiana, or Bowling for Mozart

July 26, 2006 - Brevard, NC:

On July 26, the Brevard Music Center offered another titled chamber music evening that was, like the Schubertiad, also held in the Porter Center's Scott Concert Hall. This program was all Mozart and was beautifully played. There was an interesting mix of instruments and works. In order of performance we heard the Trio in E-flat, K.498, for clarinet, viola and piano; the Quintet in E-flat, K.452, for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano; and the String Quintet No. 5 in D, K.593, with two violin, two violas, and cello. When this concert began I couldn't quite put my finger on the exact quality that stood out, but I knew it had to do with the key or choice of instrumentation.

The players, all BMC faculty members, were Steven Cohen, clarinet, Eric Ohlsson, oboe, Jean Martin-Williams, horn, David Salnesss and Byron Tauchi, violins, Eric Koontz and Scott Rawls, violas, and Andre Gaskins, cello. There were two pianists: Donna Lee played for the Trio and Craig Nies, for the K.452 Quintet. The portable acoustic shells used for the Díaz chamber music program were not present for this program.

Of course the nod to Mozart goes back to the year long, worldwide 250th birthday celebration. A friend of mine fell into a last minute deal to go to Vienna with a group and hear The Birthday Concert. In addition to a breathtaking orchestral concert the likes of which he had never heard live during his lifetime, he reported that the frenzy about all things Mozart was so great that some bars and eateries were advertising "We are a Mozart-free zone." The saturation is not limited to Europe, though. We're only a little past the halfway point of the year and already some grumbling has started. BMC opened the season with an all Mozart concert, and some students at this Mozartiana chamber music program could be heard to opine "Okay, we get it. He was good. He's dead. Next!"

Of course there is another side of the argument that says you can never have too much live Mozart, and I fall into that group.

These musicians, who clearly love to play chamber music and who chose wisely from the available repertoire, produced exquisite performances in this great hall. But the nagging questions concerning the sound ultimately caused me to violate my "no notes" rule, and I finally broke down read the program notes before the concert ended. Right away I noticed the writing was concise, with clear insight into the works. Then one line jumped out that answered my lingering question: " alto colors." Take a look at the key and instrumentation of the first two pieces. It is this particular alto richness of the works that stood out and made for a refreshing sound experience. Perhaps the concluding D major string work didn't have quite the same effect, but the sheer variety of colors in the first half was remarkable.

There was richness in the program notes also. I'm getting familiar with the various writers, and at first I thought the Center had farmed the task out to one of the professional stringers in NY. But the notes for this concert seemed to be a little more in depth. Finally I looked for the writer's name, and lo and behold it was S. Kay Hoke, Chair of the Division of Fine Arts at Brevard College (and also my boss). So obviously this summary of the three works is the best I've ever seen in my life (wink wink).

One salient point: the K.498 Trio is subtitled "Kegelstatt," which means bowling alley — where, presumably, Mozart did most of his composing of this piece. Also, legend has it that he wrote the piece while playing a game of skittles. Anyone who can write at such a high level with these kinds of distractions at hand must be some kind of genius.