Nickel for Your Thoughts: Mozart’s Groundbreaker

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In his own words, Vice President & Artistic Administrator Tony Nickle shares what he believes to be the high points of the program, “Mozart’s Groundbreaker,” but with a little edge and humor for good measure. 

Mozart, Haydn & Tarik O’Regan

This weekend’s program features the two greatest Classical (capital C) composers in history – Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – each at the absolute height of their careers and in complete command of their skills, along with Jacksonville’s introduction to a magnificent living composer, Tarik O’Regan. Joining Courtney and the Symphony for this ride is one of today’s greatest interpreters of Mozart and Beethoven-Era piano music, Jonathan Biss. 

“…this afforded Haydn a populist platform with which he became more adventurous in his compositions.”

 Franz Joseph Haydn

Haydn’s Symphony 95 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto 25 both come from some of the two composer’s most creative eras. For Haydn, this is piece was written in 1791 near the front end of his “London symphonies,” his final dozen symphonies written for the English public that quickly embraced him and his music. The audiences were more middle class than they were in the Austrian Hapsburg Court where he was employed by the Esterhazys, and this afforded Haydn a populist platform with which he became more adventurous in his compositions. The symphonies were expanded both in scale and instrumentation, and there are even more wink-and-a-nod moments from the composer already known for weaving humor into music. It marks an especially important decade for the symphony as Mozart passed away in 1791 and Beethoven’s First was nearly ten years away. Haydn, the father of the Symphony, was now the lone torchbearer. With his twelve “London symphonies” he carried forward the legacy he and Mozart had built. It’s a wonderful way to open the program. 

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

As you have hopefully noted by now, we’re on a journey this season through five of Mozart’s piano concertos written in 1785 and 1786, a period when he also wrote that little ditty The Marriage of Figaro and his glorious “Prague” Symphony. With 27 Mozart piano concertos to choose from, why these five? Not only are they in contention for the best, but they are all so deeply unique from one another. That may not sound like that big of a deal, but when composing within the Classical aesthetic, where form, symmetry and modesty reign supreme, it’s suddenly almost impossible. Only a hall-of-fame level genius could achieve both and make it sound so effortless. To compliment the uniqueness of each concerto we have five stellar pianists, each with a voice all their own. If you think all Mozart sounds the same, this mini-series of concertos will show you otherwise. Hopefully you’ve seen our first three thus far, but if not, there are two remaining: this weekend’s with Jonathan Biss and May 19 – 20 with Simone Dinnerstein. Jonathan is such a perfect pianist for this concerto that calls for someone who can play with deep understanding and intellect without the slightest hint of sounding like a dry, didactic egghead. That’s the conundrum with Mozart: a masterful performer of his music is more like a Lionel Barrymore or Maggie Smith than a Marlon Brando in Streetcar. Understanding of the structure, phrasing, and placement of every note is critical, but without the heart it rings empty. On the other hand, if emotion is the primary impetus the aforementioned critical elements fall apart into discord. Seeing Jonathan Biss perform Mozart (or Beethoven) live is witnessing an absolute master class in striking this balance. 

 “…if emotion is the primary impetus the aforementioned critical elements fall apart into discord.”

Tarik O’Regan

Between these two Classical (still capital C) greats is the shortest piece of the program, but an incredibly powerful one. We’re introducing the British-American composer Tarik O’Regan to Jacksonville with his piece Raï. In June the Symphony will perform the world premiere of Trances, a piece we commissioned from Tarik as the first in an annual line of commissions from living composers celebrating the fact that classical music is a living art form, with many great works yet to be added to the repertoire. If the idea of contemporary music sends up the red flags of unapproachable music that sounds like nothing more than noise, then Raï is the perfect medicine. It’s tonal, tuneful, colorful, and incredibly rhythmic in the most fun ways with a sizeable percussion battery center stage. There’s a moment of stillness with light percussion and solo harp that is so gorgeous it’s almost heartbreaking. 

“…celebrating the fact that classical music is a living art form, with many great works yet to be added to the repertoire.”

A Not-To-Be-Missed Program

 It’s another concert packed with unique moments that are unique to these pieces and artists. There may be many other great programs to come with their own special bonbons, but if you miss this one you will truly miss out. We hope to see you this weekend! 

Learn More & Watch Live

To learn more about this program, “Mozart’s Groundbreaker,” featuring guest artist Jonathan Biss and a work by composer Tarik O’Regan, be sure to read the full program notes. Interested in watching live? Tickets are still available to purchase on the Mozart’s Groundbreaker event page for Friday, April 8, and Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 PM. Can’t make it to Jacoby Symphony Hall? Friday night’s performance will be live-streamed on our site! Just visit the Jacoby Symphony Hall Live page for details.


By Tony Nickle, Vice President & Artistic Administrator

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