Healing with Mozart and Pro Musica
Given the events and moods of the past two years, all of us could benefit from some healing. In its Boulder County concerts of February 4 and 5, the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra provided exactly that: not merely healing, but also gracefully executed performances that soothed the soul.
On the podium was conductor/music director Cynthia Katsarelis, sharing the spotlight with flutist Christina Jennings for Vivaldi’s Goldfinch Concerto, as well as the world premiere of a newly commissioned work My Cross from Boulder composer Carter Pann, one written specifically for Jennings and Pro Musica. The close juxtaposition of Baroque and current music might have challenged some soloists, but not Jennings. The bright prosecco-like sparkle required for Vivaldi was deftly managed, then exchanged for the lyrical thoughtfulness of Pann’s music. For Vivaldi, Jennings provided a suitable quantity of extra trills, not only reflecting the concerto’s bird-like personality, but also the Baroque expectation of soloists bringing something extra of themselves to the mix. Nicely done!
As for Pann’s My Cross, his opening remarks emphasized that it is not sacred music. Rather, the title came from the approach of what he termed a “landmark birthday,” and a sense of the need to make life changes. My Cross is a meditative work, not a burdensome one. Stylistically, Pann remarked that Jennings had had only one request: “please, just make it beautiful.” Anyone listening would have to agree that he complied. Peaceful long lines for flute float over shimmering strings and pulsing vibraphone, as if it were music for a starlit night of serene reflection. Passages of stronger emotions arise, though without angst. Pann and Jennings are both on the music faculty at CU Boulder: the sense that they are well familiar with each other’s artistry suffused the performance. How does one judge the quality of performance of an utterly new work of which one does not know what to expect? Perhaps by musing on whether one longs to hear it again: indeed, yes. Maestra Katsarelis justly described it as “a moment of reflection between the energy of the Vivaldi and the sublime Mozart Jupiter.”
Which brings us to Mozart! One cannot exactly make an after-thought of that unsurpassed master, but his music both began and ended Pro Musica’s concert, bracketing the Vivaldi and the Pann. First was the Symphony no. 15 (1772), chosen by Katsarelis in honor of Pro Musica’s 15th anniversary season. Current affairs made a traditional gala impossible, but one can celebrate with music – if the music is well-chosen, as was the case here. The symphony came off as crisp, light, and graceful: perfectly balanced, not only Mozart’s notes upon the page (one expects no less), but also in Katsarelis’ direction. That Pro Musica is an orchestra of the size common in Mozart’s time proved to be an advantage for bringing out clarity of line. One imagines that the composer would have approved.
To close the concert, Maestra Katsarelis had chosen Mozart’s final symphony, the Symphony no. 41 in C major, “Jupiter.” Even by Mozart’s lofty standards, it is a significant work, uniting high Classical stylistic ideas with nuances borrowed from earlier periods, and even, in its closing movement, a spirited fugue. In her introductory comments, Katsarelis pointed out correctly that in 1788, this would have been a startling tactic. However, Mozart had been studying the music of JS Bach, and apparently wished to prove that he, too, could manage counterpoint. The finale of the Jupiter requires true focus and balance between the overlapping layers, lest the clarity of Mozart’s craftsmanship become muddled. Katsarelis’ ensemble responded to every nuanced gesture, proving that a smaller ensemble in the hands of a skilled conductor is likely the very best way to appreciate Mozart on his own terms.
Given the challenges of social distancing, Pro Musica brought in video producer Michael Quam to film and prepare a delayed broadcast of the concert, for those watching a digital version. Quam’s well-honed skills guided his inobtrusive camera placement, as well as transitions between views, and giving the virtual audience an up-close-and-personal perspective. Admittedly, being in the concert space for a live performance is most compelling of all, but to have attention focused on a section within the ensemble that is, at that moment, providing a significant element of the music, and to even see the sparkle in Katsarelis’ eye as she cues her performers, brings its own sort of intimacy, perhaps even the conviction that, “Wow! Next time, I’d love to hear them live!” Pro Musica is one of our region’s artistic treasures: its April 29 and May 1st performances will surely be worth catching, with works by Florence Price and Beethoven. Click here for more information.