I embarked on the Mozart Momentum project as a natural progression from the Beethoven Journey, a collaboration with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra that unfolded between 2012 and 2015. The resonance of our musical partnership inspired the desire to delve into the rich tapestry of Mozart’s piano concertos. This endeavor, focusing on the pivotal years of 1785 and 1786, allowed me to unravel the intricate development of Mozart’s compositional style during a period of unparalleled creativity.
Choosing a Moment in Time: 1785 and 1786
The decision to spotlight Mozart’s works from 1785 and 1786 arose from the captivating success he experienced as a freelancer in Vienna during these years. In 1784, Mozart composed six piano concertos, marking a prolific phase in his career. The subsequent two years witnessed the creation of an additional six concertos, five of which we perform in the project. This concentrated burst of artistic output is truly remarkable, providing a glimpse into the astonishing development Mozart underwent within a short timeframe.
One of the standout pieces from this period is the D Minor Concerto, composed at the beginning of 1785. Here, Mozart introduces a revolutionary concept by setting the concerto in a minor key, creating a dramatic and restless orchestral introduction. The soloist then enters with an expressive and introspective line, a departure from the norm of elaborating on the orchestra’s materials. This innovation, carried through subsequent concertos, laid the foundation for the evolving role of the soloist in the Romantic Piano Concerto.
Mozart’s experimentation extended beyond the soloist’s role. In the following concerto (No. 22), composed just a month later, he introduces the clarinet—a novelty in Vienna at the time. Inspired by clarinetist Anton Stadler, Mozart elevates wind instruments, giving them solos and distinct individuality. Simultaneously, he expands the virtuosity of the piano part, reaching into the extremes of the keyboard—a departure that hints at the later bravura associated with Beethoven and even anticipates the pianistic boldness of Liszt.
The Inclusive Palette of Mozart’s Creativity
The Mozart Momentum project extends beyond the piano concertos to offer a comprehensive view of Mozart’s creative output during this period. Inclusion of the Masonic Funeral Music and the Solo Fantasy in C Minor adds an atmospheric and mysterious dimension to the project. The Piano Quartet in G minor, a seemingly novel invention by Mozart, contributes to the diverse portrayal of his genius.
This inclusivity serves to highlight the versatility of the composer and the various facets of his creativity during the late 18th century. It allows us to witness the operatic influences seeping into his music, evident in works like The Marriage of Figaro, where human interactions and emotions take center stage. The decision to perform chamber music with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra further emphasizes the human aspect of Mozart’s music, creating a nuanced and intimate connection between performers.
Mahler Chamber Orchestra: A Musical Partnership
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra holds a special place in my musical journey. The orchestra’s unique sound qualities and its commitment to seeking out distinctive projects drew me in during our first tour in 2007. Despite the demanding nature of a nomadic lifestyle without a fixed geographical home, the orchestra’s dedication to creating something extraordinary resonated with me.
Our musical relationship deepened during the Beethoven Journey project, where we explored and re-explored Beethoven’s concertos over 80 concerts spanning three years. The constant interaction and heightened awareness of each other’s nuances fostered a sense of absolute freedom in performance—an experience I had not encountered to the same degree with other orchestras.
Playing and Conducting: A Dialogical Approach
One distinctive aspect of the Mozart Momentum and the preceding Beethoven cycle is the dual role of playing and conducting. This approach transforms the music into a conversation, a dialogue, where I am intricately involved in the storytelling and narrative. While it presents a challenge, particularly in the initial rehearsal stages, where the focus tends to shift towards conducting, it ultimately leads to a profound and authentic musical experience.
Sitting within the orchestra not only provides a unique vantage point but also resolves some inherent challenges faced when performing with a conductor. The clear visibility and enhanced communication within the ensemble align with the historical authenticity of Mozart’s time, where the pianist would likely sit amidst the other players without the intervention of a conductor.
Chamber Music, Solo, and Concerto: A Complete Musical Picture
The inclusion of piano quartets and a trio adds further dimensions to the project. While distinct in format, the piano quartets, at times, evoke a concerto-like feeling, especially in their final movements. The interwoven parts create a fascinating tapestry, illustrating the multifaceted nature of Mozart’s compositions during this period.
Unforeseen Challenges: Navigating the Pandemic and Beyond
The Mozart Momentum project faced unexpected challenges, starting with my illness two years ago, which led to the cancellation of our initial tour. The subsequent disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic further complicated our plans, with tour cancellations and recording delays. However, amidst these setbacks, moments of serendipity occurred, such as recording sessions at the Berlin Philharmonie during the November 2020 lockdown.
The resilience of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the immense gratitude we felt during those challenging times permeate the recorded performances. Despite setbacks, we remain optimistic about the future, looking forward to a series of concerts in the coming years. As we navigate the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, we anticipate a renewed perspective on our musical endeavors after this summer.
Conclusion: A Celebration of Mozart’s Momentum
In the intricate web of Mozart’s creativity, the Mozart Momentum project serves as a celebration of the composer’s momentum during the pivotal years of 1785 and 1786. From groundbreaking shifts in concerto structure to the introduction of the clarinet and the expansion of piano virtuosity, these years witness Mozart’s daring exploration and evolution as a composer.
The inclusion of lesser-known works and diverse formats underscores the multifaceted nature of Mozart’s genius. The collaborative spirit with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra adds a unique dimension, fostering a deep musical connection that transcends conventional boundaries.
While the challenges posed by illness and the pandemic have tested the project’s resilience, the unwavering commitment of all involved reflects a shared dedication to the timeless beauty of Mozart’s music. As we anticipate the release of the second part of the project, featuring the concertos of 1786, we look forward to a future filled with music, exploration, and the enduring spirit of Mozart’s momentum.