It’s almost Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for many things, including shelter, food and a circle of good friends.
I am also thankful for music and thankful that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and composed a cornucopia full of music before he died far too young in 1791.
The Redlands Symphony Orchestra’s all-Mozart concert Saturday night reminded me of how thankful I am to have music, and particularly Mozart’s music, in my life.
In his preconcert remarks, the symphony’s music director and conductor Jon Robertson said Mozart’s music makes him feel that all is well with the world. Of course, all is not well, but an evening of Mozart can’t help but make a corner of the world a little better.
The theme of Saturday’s concert in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel was “Connect With an Old Friend,” and Mozart certainly is an old friend to anyone with some familiarity with classical music. But the centerpiece of the concert was the “Concerto for Flute and Harp,” not one of the most frequently heard Mozart pieces.
Any music by Mozart would have made for a satisfying concert, but the “Concerto for Flute and Harp” proved to be as charming as Robertson promised it would be in his preconcert talk.
That’s thanks to Mozart’s music, the Redlands Symphony and soloists Sara Andon, the Redlands Symphony’s principal flutist, and Mary Dropkin, principal harpist.
The combination of flute and harp as concerto soloists has a different effect from that of a piano, violin or clarinet soloist in a concerto. And charming is a good word to describe it, though not in the sense of something that’s lightweight and lacking substance.
Even though Mozart himself was apparently not much charmed by the harp or the flute (both have been improved since Mozart’s time), he wrote a delightful concerto for the two instruments. There’s vitality, joy and beautiful melodies in the music, and the combined timbres of flute and harp lend a delicate, crystal-clear quality to the music that is sometimes playful, sometimes almost ethereal.
The harp often plays a piano-like accompaniment to the flute, but the two instruments also trade musical themes back and forth.
Why did Mozart write a concerto for flute and harp, an unusual combination of instruments in his day? Because in 1778 the duke of Guines, a flutist, commissioned him to write a concerto he could play with his daughter, a harpist, according to the Redlands Symphony’s program notes.
I don’t know how well the duke and his daughter would have played the concerto, but Sara Andon and Mary Dropkin made it a thing of Mozartean beauty and a joy to listen to.
And they made it sound easy, which Mozart’s music never is. The transparent, singable music of Mozart is tricky to perform and leaves the performer no place to hide.
No hiding place needed Saturday night, though.
And after the concerto, the audience’s sustained applause brought Andon and Dropkin back for an encore, Jacques Ibert’s “Entr’acte” for flute and harp. Composed in 1935, it’s much more recent than the Mozart concerto, and it served as a lively and lovely icing on the cake of the concerto.
The concert also included the overture to “Don Giovanni,” a short, dramatic piece to begin the evening; and Symphony No. 39, written in 1788, only three years before Mozart died. In this symphony, you can almost hear hints of where Beethoven would later take orchestral music, but this is still Mozart, still joyful and music that’s so well crafted there’s always something new to hear in it.
Even though the Salieri story of “Amadeus” is not true, all was not always well in Mozart’s world. He had money problems, his music was not always appreciated in his lifetime, and he became ill and died at 35.
But 222 years after his death, Mozart’s music continues to have the power to lift our spirits and make us believe in the possibility of a better world.
That’s something worth giving thanks for.