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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 3:53 am | Fair 48º


Two Moderns, Mozart Add Spark to Academy Concert

The young players were in fine form, with pianist Christopher Taylor at center stage

Two thoroughly modern pieces and Wolfgang Amaedus Mozart’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 21 brought a melange of sounds and emotions to the Lobero Theatre on Sunday.

The Music Academy of the West’s Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Larry Rachleff, and the visiting artist was the multi-talented pianist and academy faculty member Christopher Taylor. The young players were in the fine form that academy audiences have come to expect, and Taylor was polished and energetic.

The concert got under way with Integrales by Edgard Varese, a European-born composer who came to the United States in 1915 and foreswore traditional music ever afterward. Integrales premiered in 1925 and is an example of Varese’s thinking of music as akin to architectural forms or the growth of crystals, as described in the program notes.

Rachleff was inspired to give a brief master class to the audience before the piece was played, eliciting some unfamiliar sounds from the pared-down orchestra’s various instruments. In addition to his conducting talents, Rachleff is a born pedagogue and imparted his enthusiasm to the audience.

Taylor took the stage with the full chamber ensemble for Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, first performed in 1956. Here, the composer wrote music for a variety of instruments, each one representing a particular bird call. Again, the music was purely modern, although more melodic than the Varese. Messiaen is quoted in an interview: “It’s probable that in the artistic heirarchy, birds are the greatest musicians to inhabit our planet.”

The evening concluded with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. In the 1960s, this music enthralled moviegoers who rushed to see the Swedish film Elvira Madigan, a tragic romance. Tragic, this concerto most certainly is not.

Mozart produced the work in 1785 in Vienna, a time and place in which his creative powers were matched by his popularity with aristrocrats and the Emperor’s court. After the concerto was introduced, even Papa Leopold was moved to tears.

Although Taylor is known for his interpretations of modern works (such as the Messiaen), he brought a rich technique to bear in the concerto. In the first movement, allegro maestoso, he made his entrance quietly after the orchestra’s sprightly introduction. He met the technical demands of the movement with ease.

The well-known andante was a joyous affair, in spite of brief moments of introspection, and orchestra and soloist alike made the most of it. Both orchestral and piano triplets created an effective frame for the calm joy that suffuses the piece. Taylor sometimes placed his face close to the keyboard during his playing, as if embracing it.

The final movement, allegro vivace assai, repeated the main theme and gave the soloist and the orchestra a kind of musical dialogue that enhanced all the voices. This was Mozart at his happiest and sunniest, and the audience responded by standing and offering warm applause.

Taylor is a busy concert artist and an interesting character. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin and is also a mathematician. He has written scholarly articles on philosophy and is working on the creation of a new computer language.

The concert will be broadcast on KDB 93.7 on July 19.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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