Review: Mozart’s Defiance
This weekend the Jacksonville Symphony’s Florida Blue Classical Series presented Mozart’s Defiance: Piano Concerto No. 24, a program consisting of W. A. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor alongside the Symphony No. 1 in E minor of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24
The concert opened with the Mozart concerto, featuring soloist Conrad Tao on piano. From the outset it was clear that Mr. Tao was approaching Mozart from a wide artistic perspective. Playing with an unapologetically big-boned sonority and deploying an extremely wide range of color and dynamics, Mr. Tao revealed Mozart not as a pretty porcelain figure on a pedestal, but as a passionate, turbulent, all-too-human composer whose emotional landscape sweeps from lofty serenity to deep fear, doubt, and even regret. This perspective shined a light into the more complex and difficult emotional side of this composer, which lesser performances all too often shy away from. As we have come to expect over the years, Music Director Courtney Lewis proved to be a sharp and responsive concerto accompanist, holding things tightly together and functioning as an equal partner with the soloist. Following the concerto Mr. Tao treated the audience to an encore. It was a piece written in 2006 by American composer Elliot Carter entitled “Caténaires,” a highly chromatic and virtuosic tour de force which brought the audience jumping back to its feet with applause.
Sibelius Symphony No. 1
The second half of the evening was given over to the Symphony No. 1 in E minor of Jean Sibelius, a symphony whose impact and originality Courtney Lewis compared to Mahler’s First Symphony and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. This important work appears on symphonic programs far less often than some of the other Sibelius symphonies, but after tonight’s performance one indeed wonders why that is the case. It is a massive symphonic edifice containing a treasure trove of memorable melodies and colors. The first movement begins with a clarinet solo, beautifully rendered by Principal Clarinet Giovanni Bertoni, which introduces much of the work’s melodic material in embryonic form. From this initial kernel Courtney Lewis and the musicians let the work unfurl with an organic logic, choosing tempos that gave the phrases room to breathe but not drag. Good string intonation made for a shimmering second movement, and crisp brass and woodwinds were a highlight of the scherzo. The final movement, with its unmistakable echoes of Tchaikovsky, gave the string and brass sections ample fodder to bring the work to a soaring conclusion.
Mozart’s Defiance: Piano Concerto No. 24, was a thoughtfully programmed concert of two works which complemented each other very well. Though the two compositions might be of very disparate time periods and compositional styles on paper, when heard alongside each other the listener can discern a common thread of turbulent emotional probing, and a shared sense of wonder that critiques common efforts to pigeonhole artistic effect with narrow historic categories. This kind of thoughtful programming has risen to be the hallmark of the Jacksonville Symphony under Courtney Lewis’s leadership.
Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as classical music reviewer.
Watch and Listen
If this type of thoughtful programming interests you, please visit out 21/22 season page to find upcoming Florida Blue Classical Series performances. This particular performance, Mozart’s Defiance, was live streamed and is available for viewing on the Jacksonville Symphony YouTube channel. Interested in watching the next live stream? View the full series on the Jacoby Symphony Hall [LIVE] page for details.
The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Mayo Clinic for sponsoring the Mozart Piano Concerto Live Stream Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Mozart’s Defiance.