According to spokesguy Duane Saetveit, the annual Mozart Birthday Celebration ground rules call for the best possible performances of his great music, but also a tribute to Mozart's well documented, tasteless sense of humor.
"We come as close as we can, without being arrested, to having the kind of party Mozart would have enjoyed," Saetveit said.
Saetveit then made a case for his contention that Mozart's actual middle name was not Amadeus (which means "love of God"), but was really Gottlieb, which means the same thing in German, which was Mozart's native tongue.
All well and good, but when it came down to playing, sure enough, violinist Amy Licata, violist Donna Lorenzo and cellist Eva Herer gave a properly casual yet carefully phrased performance of a rather lightweight Divertimento in E-Flat, buoyant, nicely weighted and very well sustained.
The three string players were then joined by flutist Betsy Reeds in the equally light Flute Quartet in A, K298, with the articulate, cleanly and fluidly turned flute lines in fine balance with the strings.
It struck this observer that during the annual "dreaded raffle of door prizes," there actually were more genuinely useful prizes than in prior years. Was this a mistake?
There were tickets to concerts by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, Buffalo Philharmonic, and various Lancaster Opera House events. But there was also a pair of "autographed Mozart socks," which carried on the tradition of tastelessness, and also what Saetveit called the world's largest collection of paintings of Mozart on black velvet, three of them, all painted in Vienna in 1786 in the space of an hour or two on a specific day which the Celebration's "Scholarly Research Committee" had painstakingly documented. In prior years, these atrocities were raffled off. But the unlucky winners, apparently feeling a tinge of nausea as they surveyed their prizes, refused to take them home.
This year, evidently fearing someone would break up the priceless collection by keeping one, Saetveit offered the painting winner a substitute prize, a CD called Mozart for Dummies. "Nothing personal," he assured the nonplussed recipient.
The second half of the program had a unifying theme, music written by Mozart while bowling. There was a shred of credence when it came to the Trio in E-Flat, K498 for clarinet, viola and piano, called "Kegelstatt," which Saetveit pointed out means "bowling alley." But the program purposely misprinted it as "Kegelstadt," or bowling state.
Either way, Saetveit made the most of the kegel-bowling connection, going on to claim that the the five Duets for Two Horns (from K487) which he and Jay Matthews played with deceptive virtuosity had also been composed while Mozart was bowling.
Artistically, the crown of the evening was the "Kegelstatt" Trio played by clarinetist Kathleen Gardner, violist Lorenzo and pianist Stephen Manes with beautifully flowing liquid lines, a rich blending of the often sombre cello-viola sonorities, and a superb effort by Manes on a rather shallow-voiced piano. It's one of Mozart's most undeservely neglected works, and the performance was a delight from start to finish.
Mozart Birthday Celebration
Sixteenth annual program, hosted by the Buffalo Philharmonic's associate principal horn, Duane Saetveit.
Monday evening in the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster.