By Michael Feldman
In July 1956, I was a 17 year old graduate of Music and Arts High School, a not bad clarinet player and a fledgling conductor of minimal skills and no training.
When the grownup conductor at Music Trails Camp, Lake Placid took ill, I raised my hand, when asked the obvious question and took over. The first program featured Schubert’s 5th Symphony (which I had never previously heard) and went tolerably well. I was blessed with fine players and they succeeded in pulling me through.
The thought of returning to that treasured and most romantic of symphonies after 60 years is a special occasion and St. Luke’s, (the orchestra I formed, in the church around the corner from St. Veronica’s), recorded it quite splendidly with Julius Rudel.
Haydn 39th was performed as part of an early exploration of “Sturm and Drang” Haydn symphonies by St. Luke’s in the 70’s. This is the second and one of the earliest (1765) of these uniformly fascinating works.
We will hear two completely different sides of Mozart; the “gallant” style typical of his youth and the complex and serious Mozart of the last years of his life.
The concerto was immortalized in the mostly fictional (but stylistically accurate) play and film, Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. The exotic sound of the solo instruments and the high level of inspiration that the 22 year old sustained in this piece belies the fact that Mozart expressed disdain for the flute and had few good things to say about the harp either.
The late Charles Rosen in his definitive tome on the Classic period, picked three genres that display Mozart’s achievements at the highest level to which I would add a 4th category: insert arias, composed to fit a special vocalist. Haydn simplified arias for his untalented mistress. Mozart instead composed arias of extraordinary difficulty for an extraordinary vocalist to whom he had become quite smitten.
Aloysia Weber’s voice was a freak of nature. There was almost no limit to her flexibility— top or bottom. Indeed in one of the series of arias that Mozart wrote for her, “Popoli di Tessaglia!” a double high “g,” is inserted, the highest note ever composed for a singer. Mozart gleefully composed gratuitous huge leaps, her specialty. Few singers attempt one or two of these physically and emotionally exhausting pieces today but I once heard Natalie Dessay sing all of them in Paris and asked her backstage whether she had lost her mind. We passed on Mme Weber’s and instead chose a late and anguished example written for a soprano in Prague.
The lovely Haydn aria was originally composed for a marionette opera intended for a celebratory visit of the Empress. The opera, as well as other such works were lost in a terrible fire. Haydn reused this aria a few years later in his comedy, “Mondo della luna;” it is this Italian version that we will perform on April 22nd.
A few words about the newly formed Orchestra of St. Veronica: Back in 1974 with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, those special artists developed a collective spirit of singular devotion to the highest standards of ensemble performance.
We are not so young anymore and some of us don’t play technically as well as we did when we were in our 20s and 30s, but the spirit remains; a group of us are the nucleus of this orchestra fostering a new generation of artists. And so may I applaud Louise and Jack (there at the very beginning), Mitsuru, Bob, Mayuki and Eriko and our oboist Gerry Reuter who played a similar role in the founding of Orpheus. And especially to our orchestra manager Charles Kieger, who has tirelessly melded the group together.