This afternoon at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral Noontime Concerts™ (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”) presented the first of three concerts organized by George Cleve to preview this year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival. The program consisted of a single composition, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 499 string quartet in D major, sometimes called the “Hoffmeister” after the man who published it, Franz Anton Hoffmeister. The performers were members of the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra, violinists Robin Hansen and Dan Flanagan, violist Elizabeth Prior, and cellist Vanessa Ruotolo.
In many respects K. 499 is a pivotal composition. It was composed in 1786, the year after Mozart completed the set of six quartets he dedicated to Joseph Haydn (composed between 1782 and 1785). However, in the broader scale of music history, it suggests that Mozart was heading down directions that others would pursue with greater determination.
Most importantly, he was beginning to explore working with longer durations than had previously been associated with string quartets (or, for that matter, any other form of chamber music). The durations of both the opening Allegretto and the third (Adagio) movement are on scales that may well have registered with the young Ludwig van Beethoven, who would subsequently push them to even greater lengths. In a similar manner we find Mozart playing with transpositions that stretch the conventions of what constitutes modulation yet never damaging the overall sense of a tonal center, a technique that would be pursued to even greater extremes by Franz Schubert. Today’s performance provided a clear account of these rather revolutionary characteristics without blowing any of them out of proportion, simply allowing the listener to appreciate Mozart’s skill at finding original ways to work with familiar conventions.
This summer’s Festival will present three weeks of concerts. However, only two of the programs will be performed in San Francisco. The first, consisting entirely of chamber music, is entitled Peter Serkin & Friends. Guest pianist Serkin will perform as soloist, accompanist for two sonatas, and keyboardist in two quintets. The other program to be performed in San Francisco will take place during the final week and is entitled A Mozart Bouquet. As the title suggests, this will present an impressive diversity of resources, including pianist Seymour Lipkin in a concerto performance, mezzo Anna Yelizarova in an opera aria, and additional vocal selections featuring the San Francisco Boys Chorus prepared by Ian Robertson. The Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra will be conducted by Music Director Cleve.
The San Francisco concerts will be performed this summer at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street). The concerts will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, and 7:30 p.m. on Friday July 25, respectively. Ticket prices will be announced on June 1 and will be available through the home page of the Festival Web site or by calling 415-596-5712.