Rock Me Amadeus

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra celebrates Mozart’s 250th birthday with a series of performances and related events throughout the state.

By:Susan Van Dongen
(Karl Herman (right), first chair clarinetist with the NJSO, will perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major as part of Mozart’s Autumnal Years, in New Brunswick Jan. 12 and Newark Jan. 13 and 15. The program is one of many celebrating the 250th anniversary of the great composer (pictured above).)
   There’s so much to discuss about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — especially since 2006 is the 250th anniversary of his birth — that it’ll take almost a month to properly pay tribute to him.
    For its 2006 Winter Festival, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will dedicate most of January to celebrate one of classical music’s most prolific geniuses. Titled The Many Faces of Mozart, the festival focuses on his music and explores the enigmatic personality of this composer.
    Audiences from all around central and northern New Jersey can enjoy Mozart’s most familiar music as well as compositions that are fairly obscure. In addition, planners have put together a number of supplementary events to investigate the myth behind the man.
    One of the special topics includes a discussion of the hotly debated findings regarding the "Mozart Effect" — whether infants benefit significantly from listening to Mozart. There’s also a lecture about the composer’s legendary rivalry with Antonio Salieri, as presented in the film and play Amadeus.
    Karl Herman, first chair clarinetist with the NJSO, doesn’t really know if the Salieri/Mozart rivalry was true, or if his own son’s IQ was raised by hearing classical music as an infant. These kind of debates about the composer can go on and on, he says.
    "I’m reading a six-page article about whether to play F-sharp or F-natural in this one passage in the first movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto," he says. "Imagine, if somebody was able to make six pages out of this, they could probably write 6,000 about Mozart and Salieri."
    Mr. Herman will be the featured soloist, performing the Clarinet Concerto in A Major with the NJSO as part of the program Mozart’s Autumnal Years, at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, Jan. 12 and also at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Jan. 13 and 15. He says the work is crowd-pleasing, but a real challenge for clarinetists, taking the instrument from its very lowest note to the stratosphere.
    "It’s the best clarinet concerto but also one of the hardest," Mr. Herman says. "It’s quite a difficult piece — you have to have a lot of control and balance. It’s not an accident that everyone has to play the Clarinet Concerto for orchestra auditions. It can show your strengths and deficiencies faster than any other piece I know. When you play the Mozart concerto, (the jury) can really determine what kind of a player you are."
    The composer may not have been the first to introduce the clarinet to the orchestra, but Mozart did more with the new instrument than anyone else, in regards to its place in the orchestra. Before the clarinet, ensembles relied on flute and oboe for the higher ranges, whereas bassoons covered the lower ranges.
    "They needed a bridge instrument between the high and low instruments," Mr. Herman says. "Clarinet is well-suited to reach both highs and lows. It has a strong, usable range that goes very well between the upper end of the bassoon and the lower end of the oboe and flute."
    Apparently Mozart was fascinated by mechanical gadgets and instruments. Winter Festival co-coordinator and musicologist Joseph Horowitz has planned an evening of music and discussion to examine the composer’s curiosity. With Glimpses of Mozart: From the Mechanical to the Sublime, Jan. 10, the audience can hear about Mozart’s love for the clarinet, and his intriguing compositions for mechanical instruments. Held at the Morris Museum in Morristown, the event showcases the museum’s stunning collection of mechanical instruments, one of the most significant in the world.
    Speaking of extraordinary instruments, legendary concert pianist Vladimir Feltsman will give a rare double performance of Mozart’s Concert-Rondo in D — first on a fortepiano from Mozart’s own time, and then again on a modern piano. The NJSO’s performances with Mr. Feltsman playing both the modern piano and the fortepiano will take place at Richardson Auditorium in Princeton, Jan. 27, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Jan. 28 and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, Jan. 29. In addition, New Jersey Network viewers can watch Mr. Feltsman discuss the instruments on a special edition of State of the Arts, Jan. 6 and 11.
    Mozart was at the peak of his compositional abilities — as well as just a few weeks away from his death in 1791 — when he composed the Clarinet Concerto in A Major. He wrote it specifically for his friend and fellow freemason, Anton Stadler, and it was not the first time he wrote for him. The musician was the intended player for numerous orchestral parts and several chamber works, including the Kegelstatt Trio K. 498 and the Clarinet Quintet K 581.
    "Part of Mozart’s (success with) the clarinet came because he was writing for a master clarinetist, Anton Stadler," Mr. Herman says. "That was huge plus for the instrument as far as having repertoire written for it. It was the same with Brahms later on — he was also writing for a master musician."
    As far as the "Mozart Effect" — the idea that parents-
to-be can increase their baby’s IQ by playing Mozart in utero as well as in infancy — the issue is debatable. Mr. Herman says his 4-year-old son heard classical music around the house constantly as an infant and behaves like a "regular little boy." (The clarinetist is married to the NJSO pianist Erica Nickrenz, who is also one-third of the Eroica Trio.)
    "My son likes to put together these tubes and pretend it’s a trombone," Mr. Herman says. "I think he just likes buzzing his lips. Often when I’m rehearsing, he comes in
and starts banging on the piano. But I don’t think it’s anything particularly creative — more like ‘hey, pay attention to me.’"
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with clarinetist Karl Herman, will perform Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major and other works at the State Theatre, 15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, Jan. 12, 8 p.m. On the Web: The concert will be performed at NJPAC, 1 Center St., Newark, Jan. 13, 8 p.m., Jan. 15, 3 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$75. On the Web: The NJSO and guest vocalists will perform ‘Mozart and the Voice’ at NJPAC Jan. 20, 8 p.m., Jan. 22, 3 p.m.; and at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, West Lafayette and Barrack streets, Trenton, Jan. 21, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$75. On the Web: The NJSO, with pianists Vladimir Feltsman and Paul Ostrovsky, will perform Mozart’s four-hand Piano Sonata in C Major at Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University, Jan. 27, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $50-$62. On the Web: The concert will also be performed at NJPAC Jan. 28, 8 p.m., and the State Theatre Jan. 29, 3 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$75. For information, call (800) 255-3476. Complete details of the NJSO’s 2006 Winter Festival on the Web:
The Princeton Symphony Orchestra will celebrate Mozart’s 250th anniversary with ‘It’s a Boy!,’ featuring selections from ‘Don Giovanni,’ ‘Marriage of Figaro’ and ‘Cosi fan tutte,’ with guest vocalists Wonjung Kim and Anna Neidbala, at Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University, Jan. 22, 4 p.m. Tickets cost $15-$60. For information, call (609) 497-0020. On the Web: NJN’s ‘State of the Arts,’ featuring Mr. Feltsman discussing the piano and fortepiano, will air Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m., and Jan. 11, 11:30 p.m. Check local listings. On the Web: