Pittsburgh Symphony presents magic of Mozart in mini festival
Mozart presents happy paradoxes. He is arguably the most popular composer, yet none is deeper. He achieves magic with the simplest of means, yet sophistication underlies his simplicity.
Over the next two weekends, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra pulls a little magic of its own, of the programming kind, by presenting a mini-Mozart Festival of three pairs of concerts. The trick is squeezing in the middle pair of concerts by repeating a “Sunday afternoon in Vienna” concert the following Friday.
Presiding over the events will be Pinchas Zukerman, who returns to Heinz Hall in the now-familiar triple role of conductor, violinist and violist.
Three young soloists will join him for concerti, symphonies, chamber music and operatic excerpts.
Actually, the soprano represents a fourth role for Zukerman, because he’s her father. Arianna Zukerman describes herself as a “lyric soprano, on the light side at the moment, with a rounder quality.”
When she portrayed Zerlina in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” the Boston Globe declared her “superb.” She’s been a member of the young artists program of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and has given orchestral and chamber music concerts as well as in opera in North America and Europe.
Her mother is flutist Eugenia Zukerman, with whom she recently performed composer Libby Larsen’s “Notes Under the Door.” The songs are “notes my sister Natalia and I used to slip to her under the door when we couldn’t talk because our feelings were too tender or angry,” she said. “They’re notes from teenage girls to their mom.”
The young singer studied musical theater at Brown University but gradually switched to opera. “My voice has always had a classical bent, and I thought the most complete theatrical experience would be onstage singing an opera. I took a gamble.”
Now 30 years old, Arianna Zukerman says she’s just a baby as a singer. “It’s all about context. In tennis, I’d be all washed up by now.”
Saying she’s a “serious daddy’s girl,” she hopes the bond she has with him translates to the audience.
Violinist Viviane Hagner’s bond with Zukerman is close, if not familial. She studied with him at the Manhattan School of Music and often has performed Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola with him, as she will at Heinz Hall.
As a girl growing up in Munich, Germany, she studied piano and violin. So did her sister Nicole, who chose piano. The sisters collaborated for an excellent EMI “Debut Series” compact disc of music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Camille Saint-Saens. The violinist, who is 26, won first prize at the Young Concert Artists International Competition in 2000.
When she first met Zukerman, she says, “I was very much looking forward to playing for him. He was a kind of hero of mine. I was really anxious. He was encouraging and asked questions I found extremely interesting.”
After traveling to Israel for a masterclass with Zukerman, she began formal studies with him at the Manhattan School of Music. “He’s a fantastic teacher,” she says. “He would never really tell me exactly how I should play a phrase, but wanted me to play a couple of different ways, and find a fourth or fifth way.”
Pianist Stewart Goodyear, 25, will play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, which picked up the nickname “Elvira Madigan” from use of its dreamy slow movement in a Swedish cinematic romantic tragedy.
“I come from a family of music lovers,” Goodyear says. “My grandparents on my father’s side introduced me to opera and Broadway. My mom’s from Trinidad and introduced me to calypso. And my dad, who died a month before I was born, left a legacy of rock ‘n’ roll records from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Cat Stevens. I have a very eclectic background.”
The Toronto native earned his masters degree at the Juilliard School of Music, and also is active as a composer. In addition to a piano sonata, he has written a 22-minute set of variations on the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” that has been well received. He will improvise his cadenzas while performing at Heinz Hall.
Goodyear began playing by ear when he was 3, also transcribing what he heard. He learned sight-reading when he began lessons at 7.
He says being into classical music when he was a kid made him feel like a rebel. “Culture Club and Michael Jackson were hot when I was 4, but I seemed to be more attracted to classical.”
What amazed him when he first heard Mozart was “how many emotions are brought out in the span of one piece. “When I heard the ‘Elvira Madigan’ Concerto, I couldn’t stop listening to it. I played it over and over. I didn’t know what opera was then, but it felt like what I now know opera to be, with so many different characters coming in.”
Mozart wrote most of his piano concerti for himself but also was an ardent string player. Yet he wanted to write operas most of all, and an operatic sensibility animates much of his instrumental music. The assessment of another celebrated opera composer remains as true today as it was when said nearly 200 years ago.
Mozart combines “the charm of Italian melody with all the profundity of German harmony,” says Gioachino Rossini. “He is the only musician who had as much knowledge as genius and as much genius as knowledge.”