“Mozart and Mendelssohn” program includes “a perfect piece of music”
By Peter Alexander Feb. 11 at 9:10 p.m.
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein was in Boulder last September, but since then she has hardly left her home in Brooklyn. A prisoner of COVID, she has had to cancel planned trips for concerts and recordings.
“I’ve gone to New Jersey,” she says. “That’s about as far as I’ve gone, and that was a big trip!”
Fortunately for us, she recorded two concerts with members of the Boulder Philharmonic when she was here. The first was streamed in November, and the second will be streamed starting Saturday (Feb. 13) at 7:30 p.m., remaining available through Saturday, Feb. 27. Titled “Mozart and Mendelssohn,” the program features the former’s Piano Concerto in C major, K467, in a COVID-friendly arrangement for strings and piano, as supplemented by Dinnerstein and members of the orchestra; and the latter’s joyous Octet for Strings.
The concert also features Dinnerstein playing two works by Scott Joplin. The Boulder Phil asked her if she would play something for solo piano to complete the program. She picked two of her favorite pieces by Joplin, both in order to include a composer from an under-represented group, and as an opportunity to add some Joplin to her repertoire.
“Scott Joplin was one of the great 20th-century American composers,” she says. “I’ve read it for myself but I’ve never performed it.”
The pieces she picked are not the usual rags that Joplin is best known for. “Solace, a Mexican Serenade” has been part of the Joplin revival that began with the 1973 film The Sting, but “Bethena, a Concert Waltz” remains less known. Both pieces are tinged with melancholy, which seems to be fine with Dinnerstein.
“I’ve always loved these two pieces,” she says. “I do tend to like things that are a little bit gloomy.”
In spite of the chronological, geographic and cultural distances involved, she sees a connection between Joplin and the other two composers on the program. “There is a kind of freshness to [Joplin’s] music,” she says. “The music has more layers to it than you first hear, and I think that’s true of Mozart and Mendelssohn. In that way these three composers do relate to each other.”
Neither the Mozart nor Mendelssohn pieces could remotely be considered gloomy. Mozart’s Piano Concerto K467 is in the sunny key of C major, and sunny it remains. “It’s been one of my favorite concertos since I was a teenager,” Dinnerstein says, adding thoughtfully, “I don’t normally relate much to music that is straightforwardly joyful.”
The version she and members of the Phil will perform was arranged for sting quintet by German composer Franz Lachner, probably to make the music available for home music making. But Dinnerstein discovered in rehearsal that Lachner’s arrangement was incomplete.
“There was no score , only the individual parts, which was slightly confusing,” she says. “When we started rehearsing I realized that certain lines were missing, and [the orchestra players] were very accommodating and wrote in some extra parts for themselves.”
The Concerto opens with a jolly march that has the usual proliferation of Mozartian themes from the very beginning. There are march rhythms, fanfares, lyrical moments, and a pervading sense of delight.
The concerto is best known for its dreamy slow movement, which was used in the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan. The movement, Dinnerstein says, “has the sense of romance to it, which may be colored by having seen the film when I was a teenager.
“Basically, the concerto is just effervescent and yet it has a weight to it as well. It’s just a perfect piece of music.”
The final piece on the program, Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings was chosen by Boulder Philharmonic music director Michael Butterman. As Butterman has pointed out in the orchestra’s promotional materials, Mendelssohn is one of the few composers who ranked with Mozart as a youthful musical prodigy.
The Octet was written when he was 16, as a birthday present for his violin teacher. Today it is one of the composer’s most loved pieces.
Its sheer exuberance is enjoyed by players and audiences alike. It is filled with the kind of sprightly music that Mendelssohn used to characterize the Shakespearian fairies in his music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Beneath the dazzling surface, however, Mendelssohn demonstrates his precocious mastery of counterpoint, especially in the eight-part fugue that opens the finale.
Paralleling Dinnerstein’s characterization of the Mozart Concerto, Scottish music critic Conrad Wilson wrote that the Octet’s “youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of 19th-century music.”
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“Mozart and Mendelssohn”
Members of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra with
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Scott Joplin: Solace, a Mexican Serenade and Bethena, Concert Waltz
Mozart, arr. Franz Lachner: Piano Concerto in C major, K467
Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings, op. 20
Streamed starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, through Saturday, Feb. 27
Tickets available HERE