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Redlands Symphony Orchestra ends season with Beethoven, Mozart

04/13/15 • by Betty Tyler • The Redlands Daily Facts

Are you a Beethoven person or a Mozart person? Shall we try a silly Internet-style quiz to find out?

Here are a couple sample questions.

  1. Choose a color: A. sky blue; B. blood red; C. lemon yellow; D. passionate purple. 2. Choose an image: A. sunset at the beach; B. a thunderstorm; C. waltzing couples; D. a football game.

Whatever answers you chose, this quiz won’t put you squarely in the Beethoven camp or the Mozart camp. Though there is some truth in stereotypes, music and people are much more varied and complex than a choice of A, B, C or D. You might lean toward Mozart one day and Beethoven the next, depending on the piece, your mood and even what you had for lunch.

Now here’s one more question.

  1. Choose a concert: A. the Redlands Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony; B. the Redlands Symphony Orchestra and pianist Roberta Rust playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major.

Fortunately, people at the Redlands Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season Saturday night didn’t have to make that choice. The orchestra played both those pieces, with Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture thrown in for good measure.

Jon Robertson, the orchestra’s conductor and music director, put himself in the Beethoven camp in his preconcert remarks Saturday night, saying that, though he is in love with whatever music he is conducting at the time, he’d have to say Beethoven is his favorite composer.

Robertson also has a foot firmly in the Mozart camp, though, calling Mozart “another great love of mine.”

And though it is much too simplistic to reduce Beethoven and Mozart to a quiz of color choices, Robertson pointed out one of the essential differences between the two when he said Beethoven is edgy and in your face, while Mozart is not in your face.

There are many reasons for that difference, among them the fact that Beethoven gradually became deaf during his years of writing music. Beethoven’s early music grew out of the late 18th-century Classical period, in which Mozart wrote his sparklingly clear music.

But by the time Beethoven wrote his Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” in 1803-04, he knew he was going deaf, and Robertson said the “Eroica” expresses an array of emotion that’s not in Classical music. And not only is the “Eroica” emotionally “in your face,” but it also changed the world of symphonic music. Robertson said it was “the benchmark that would change the depth, breadth and scope of symphonic writing to this day.”

The legendary “Eroica” filled the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel Saturday night with its anger, tragedy and triumph and a wide spectrum of orchestral color and power.

The symphony, which Beethoven originally intended to dedicate to Napoleon, is heroic not only in content but in length, lasting about an hour, but it was an hour of glorious music.

I will confess that I lean more toward Mozart than toward Beethoven, but hearing the Redlands Symphony Orchestra play the “Eroica” was an exhilarating experience, and I’m glad I didn’t have to choose between Mozart and Beethoven.

And there was more Beethoven. The concert opened with the drama of the “Coriolan” Overture, written in 1809-10, a few years after the “Eroica” Symphony.

Sandwiched in between the two Beethoven works was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, written in 1786.

This was the music that spoke more directly to my soul Saturday night. There is something in the clarity and melodic beauty of Mozart’s music that takes me to — well, maybe to that sunset at the beach in question No. 2, but also to a more profound sense of well-being. There may be lightness in Mozart, but there’s depth, too.

And pianist Roberta Rust, who is on the artist faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Lynn University in Boca Raton, brought out the depth, beauty and playfulness of the concerto with a clear, lovely Mozartean tone.

The orchestra matched Rust’s tone and fluid playing in a performance that elicited an inner “aaaah!” in me and much more audible appreciation from the audience when the music ended.

One somewhat unusual note — Rust had the printed music in front of her at the piano. That’s becoming a little more common for soloists nowadays, but it’s still not the norm.

Using the music in performance may bother some people, but I don’t see it as a problem. It certainly didn’t take anything away from the Mozart concerto.

Rather, the takeaway from Saturday night’s concert was that Beethoven and Mozart both deserve top billing in a Redlands Symphony Orchestra concert.

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