St. James Cathedral was filled to capacity Nov. 12, with an enthusiastic crowd waiting to hear chamber music featuring musicians of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. This is the third year that Lyric Unlimited has sponsored performances of chamber music linked to the opera season, and this year The Magic Flute served as inspiration for an all-Mozart program. The program began with Joseph Heidenreich’s wind octet arrangement of selections from the opera performed by Charlene Zimmerman and Linda Baker, clarinets; Judith Kulb and Judith Lewis, oboes; Fritz Foss and Neil Kimel, horns; Lewis Kirk and Preman Tilson, bassoons.
Lewis Kirk, who helped to organize this selection, had this to say:
“It was common practice in Mozart’s day to arrange large scale pieces for smaller ensembles. There were no recordings, so arrangements of operatic music gave people a chance to get to know music they had heard at the opera house. The Magic Flute was written in 1791 (same year as Mozart’s death) and arranged shortly thereafter by Heidenreich for the standard wind octet.
As arrangers will do, Heidenreich took liberties with Mozart’s original music - not attempting a transcription of all the notes of the arias, but rather an interpretation. He left out bits of music, sometimes in a baffling way, and tossed the melodies around playfully among the instruments. We enjoyed working on these arrangements as it’s music we know well and have played many times. We drew on that collective experience to help shape our approach: ‘let’s stretch here, it’s really a cadenza for the soprano’ or ‘let’s add a crescendo here.’ We decided to present Heidenreich’s arrangement in its original form, with a few alterations of articulation and dynamics (Okay - we did change a few of the octaves…). I like to think of our performance of selections from The Magic Flute as a kind of sneak preview of the performance of the complete opera!”
Mozart’s sublime Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581 followed, performed by violinists Ann Palen and Bing Jing Yu, violist Terri Van Valkinburgh, cellist Calum Cook, and clarinetist Susan Warner.
Susan Warner, who served as group leader and clarinet diva for the quintet, had this to say:
“As a fellow at Tanglewood Music Center, I performed the Mozart Clarinet Quintet for the first time. Joel Krosnick, recently retired cellist of the Juilliard Quartet, was our fabulous coach. Joel’s enthusiastic love of music, and particularly of this quintet, drove our coachings forward at a dizzying pace. He taught all five of us to stop fearing Mozart, and rather to start dreaming and emoting. He pushed us to perform the notes as if we were improvising them on the spot. He challenged us to imagine opera scenes: ‘End that trill as if you are marching out of the room and slamming the door!’ ‘This scene is breathless passion between two lovers under shooting stars!’ All of this flowery description sounded incredibly new to my young Midwestern ears, and my mind was blown open to the endless possibilities of the notes on the page.
For me, the final movement of the Clarinet Quintet, a theme and variations, is the most operatic. I imagine being caught up in the middle of a Mozart finale with people rushing on- and off-stage, interacting together—sometimes as a duo, sometimes as a quintet, but always with humor or wistfulness, passion, and an incredible sense of storytelling, including a final party kick-line off the stage!”
The performance was received with bravos and ovations. We applaud Lyric’s General Director, Anthony Freud, and Director of Education, Mark Riggleman, for bringing the orchestra onto the stage in this interesting way.
It was a great day for our team!
Photos: Del Hall