A lovely bouquet of Mozart

Symphony, Chorale join forces for Valentine’s concerts this weekend

The Spokane Symphony and Symphony Chorale celebrate Valentine’s weekend with an all-Mozart program Saturday and Sunday at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.

Vocal soloists soprano Ester Heideman, mezzo-soprano MaryAnn McCormick, tenor Marcus Shelton and baritone John Packard will perform the composer’s Requiem.

The program also includes the famous “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” one of Mozart’s most frequently played compositions, and his Concerto for Flute and Harp, featuring symphony principal flutist Bruce Bodden and harpist Earecka Tregenza.

Music Director Eckart Preu will conduct.

Some among this weekend’s concertgoers might be startled by the choice of the Requiem as the concert’s major work.

“Actually we were not thinking of this as a Valentine’s Day concert,” Preu says. “In fact, we had originally planned to perform Schoenberg’s ‘Survivor from Warsaw’ as a 20th-century musical observation on death.

“When our budget for the season didn’t allow that, I thought, ‘There are plenty of works by Mozart himself (that) we could put alongside the Requiem.’

“The Requiem is a very lovely piece,” Preu adds, “and it is dramatic, of course, but Mozart doesn’t try to scare the pants off of anybody the way Berlioz or Verdi do in their Requiems. It is mostly quite gentle and comforting, like Brahms ‘Ein deutsches Requiem’ or even like Fauré’s Requiem.”

Mozart worked on the Requiem until almost the day of his death, but he never finished it. The piece had been a commission from Count Walsegg-Stuppach, and Mozart had been given a down payment even before he stating writing. The whole fee was considerable, maybe half of what he would have been paid for an entire opera.

“His widow, Constanza, desperately needed the money she would receive for the completed work,” Preu says. “She tried asking a couple of very good composers to finish it, but they looked at what Mozart had completed and gave up.”

Mozart’s widow finally cajoled his 24-year-old student Franz Xaver Süssmeyr into finishing the job. Musicians and scholars alike have sneered at Süssmeyr’s completion, and several 20th-century musicians have even tried their own hand at it.

“Nobody can be successful at writing something that matches Mozart,” Preu says. “I have decided to use Süssmeyr for one main reason: He was there. He talked with Mozart when Mozart was still able to work on the Requiem, and he did his best under great pressure.

“My guess is, if we didn’t know Mozart hadn’t finished it, there are very few who could say for certain, ‘Wait a minute! That’s not Mozart.’ It’s what we have, and what we have is very beautiful.”

This weekend’s concerts will open with Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachmusic,” probably he most frequently performed of the composer’s works.

“It is a small piece and quite simple, not a big orchestra piece, but a chamber music serenade,” Preu says. “Mozart would have smiled or maybe even gnashed his teeth at its great popularity. But like other works that are so popular, it really requires great, special care.”

The other major work on this weekend’s concerts is a comparative rarity, Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp (K. 299). It was written when he was in Paris for the flute-playing diplomat the Conte de Guines and his daughter, a harpist.

“This is an unusual work,” Preu says. “The harp in those days was nothing like it is now, and the harp part looks very difficult. I’d like to know just how this young girl managed it.”

Preu will discuss the music on this weekend’s concerts one hour before the performance as a part of the Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series.

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