Annual Duncan Gardens’ concerts reveal Mozart’s Italian side

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart seems as Austrian as Sacher torte or Wienerschnitzel. But Connoisseur Concerts’ annual Mozart on a Summer’s Eve explores Mozart’s Italian side, on the lawn east of the fountain at Manito Park’s Duncan Gardens Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Italian connection will come as no surprise for those who have tracked Mozart’s life. Though he was born in Salzburg and became a resident of Vienna, he spent nearly half of his short life touring. Those tours included three trips to Italy where he absorbed the work of Italian composers, new and old. And we should not forget that musical life in Mozart’s Vienna was dominated by Italians (remember his rival Antonio Salieri in the film “Amadeus”?).

Mozart on a Summer’s Eve has long been a feature of Spokane’s summer music, and this summer will mark its 21st anniversary. The concerts will be directed by Verne Windham, one of the best known figures in Spokane’s musical life as a performer on French horn, a conductor and as the host, commentator and director of arts programming for  KPBX-FM, Spokane’s public radio station. Windham recently stepped down as conductor of the Spokane Youth Orchestra. and has just returned from an Alaska cruise given to him and his wife Susan Windham by the Youth Symphony board honoring his 15-year leadership of the orchestra.

Baritone Max Mendez will be the featured soloist for the concerts. Mendez is known for his versatility in styles ranging from early music and opera to cabaret and musical theater. He currently is director of choirs at North Idaho College and serves as chairman of the college’s Division of Communications and Humanities. 

Mendez’s work is well known in Spokane through his performances with almost all the city’s prominent musical organizations, including the Spokane Symphony, Spokane Opera, Allegro, Zephyr, and the Northwest Bach Festival. He has performed with Opera Coeur d’Alene and the Coeur d’Alene Symphony and other West Coast theater and opera companies. He also served as director of music at Spokane’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Mendez recently received the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the City of Coeur d’Alene. He lives in Hayden with his wife and their four children.

Mendez will sing arias and songs by Mozart along with Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” from “The Barber of Seville’ and Italian songs by Carlos Gardel and F. Paolo Tosti.

The Connoisseur Concerts Wind Ensemble will open the concerts with a march by Domenico Cimarose and perform instrumental arrangements of dances and songs from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” made by Mozart’s contemporary Johann Nepomuk Wendt. Clarinetist Daniel Cotter will play Franz Danzi’s virtuoso Fantasie on the aria “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

The Wind Ensemble is made up of clarinetists Cotter and Jane Ellsworth, oboists Gary Plowman and Bethany Schoeff, hornists Roger Logan and Verne Windham, and bassoonists Luke Bakken and John Reid.

“Our audience members for the concerts can enjoy the performances either being seated at elegant tables for eight or just by bringing their own blankets and chairs and sitting on the lawn,” said Gertrude Harvey, the executive director of Connoisseur Concerts.

The $25 per person ticket price for table seating includes coffee and a gourmet dessert catered by Luna restaurant. “Some patrons may wish to reserve a table for eight ($200) and arrange for friends and family to join them,” Harvey said. “Ticket holders are invited to arrive as early as 5:30 p.m., to picnic or have a potluck at their reserved table. Early purchase of tickets is advised since limited table seating is available.” 

The rain venue for “Mozart on a Summer’s Eve” is St. John’s Cathedral, Grand Boulevard at 12th Avenue.  Food service, in that case, would be in the Great Hall of Jewett House, with the concert in the Cathedral.

For additional information, call Connoisseur Concerts: (509) 326-4942 or see their online site www.nwbachfest.com.

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