2009 Salzburg Festival: The Mozarteum

KUHF CEO and General Manager John Proffitt will host a 60th anniversary tour to Austria next summer, which will include four days at the Salzburg Festival. Dean Dalton visited the Festival this summer to make plans and saw five performances in a span of four days. Today, Dean visits the Mozarteum.
The Mozarteum is the former building of the music school (now housing the foundation that edits the New Mozart Edition and presents a Mozart Festival in January), flanking the Mirabel Gardens near the house the Mozart family occupied when young Wolfgang was growing up.  Its gold-and-white neo-baroque concert hall is the site for most of the Salzburg Festival's chamber music and solo recitals (except for those by super-stars) as well as weekly "Mozart Matinees"—concerts of 18th-century orchestral music.

David FrayWith lower prices* and fewer high profile artists, this is where you see the chamber and early-music fans: folks who are attracted by more intimate settings and music of subtler hues.  Another plus: its tree-shaded garden, overlooking the Mirabel Gardens, is a much nicer place to have a coffee before a performance or to sip a glass of wine at intermission than is the crowded street in front of the Festival Halls where you have to dodge bicycles and Fiakers' horses!  The Mozarteum is the site of some of my fondest memories of the Salzburg Festival (I have been bringing tour groups and coming on my own, off and on, for more than a decade), including an intriguing program of chamber music with Stephen Isserlis and friends and a song recital by Thomas Hampson. I ran onto Hampson this summer, following the Vienna Philharmonic concert who exclaimed of conductor Gustavo Dudamel: "Now there is the 'real thing,' don't you think?"

This time around, I did both of my Mozarteum concerts in a single day: a Mozart-Matinee, followed by dinner al fresco on a quiet street nearby, and then, in the evening, a solo recital on which Thomas Zehetmair traversed all of Eugène Ysaÿe's Six Sonatas for Solo Violin.

The Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg is not, as the name might suggest, the orchestra of either the eponymous university of music and art or of the foundation, but the full-scale professional symphony orchestra of the city and county/province of Salzburg (Hans Graf was music director from 1984 to 1994).   This concert, the last of five, weekly Mozart Matinee programs on this year's Festival (each is played twice, usually on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning), was an all-Mozart affair.  The overtures to Così fan tutte and The Magic Flute opened the two halves, the first followed by the Piano Concerto number 25 in C and the second preceding the "Haffner Symphony."  Conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, a Corsican who has a pretty busy career in the early music business in France, it was a rather routine afternoon that offered a filling meal of familiar dishes, properly seasoned and nicely served: satisfying but not particularly memorable.  The one element that did make a strong impression was the soloist: David Fray.  The young Frenchman (not yet 30) has been making a bit of a splash since being selected Young Soloist of the Year and winning Second Grand Prize at the Montreal International Piano Competition in 2004.  His sound is at once warm and clear and his interpretation personal without being extreme.  In manner he reminds one of Glenn Gould (fortunately he only contorts his face like a singer, rather than vocalizing audibly as Gould did) but in look he is much more glamorous.  In today's world, the latter attribute at least, is likely to be a major asset to his career!

Violinist Thomas ZehetmairViolinist Thomas Zehetmair literally returned home for his solo recital at the Mozarteum that evening: not only did he study there but he was born in Salzburg to a father who was on the Mozarteum faculty!  Nearing 50 now, Zehetmair has always been something of a musical intellectual. Focusing on contemporary repertoire and chamber music rather than the big Romantic concertos, and spending as much time conducting chamber orchestras as playing violin, he never gained the high public profile of a Joshua Bell or Anne Sophie Mutter.  But he is definitely a musician's musician and a violinist's violinist: never have I seen so many students (young people, period) at a Salzburg Festival concert!  It seemed every serious violinist in town (they are easy to identify from the red spot on the left side of their neck) came out to hear him play all six of the Ysaÿe unaccompanied sonatas.  It is a daunting task, not only technically and intellectually but physically as well.  Zehetmair, soaked to the skin by the time he got through the first three sonatas, changed at intermission and sweated through another outfit before the evening was out.  But we hadn't come to watch a workout but to hear great music making and it appeared that no one was disappointed on that score.  Zehetmair was called back repeatedly for encores.

As it turned out, my five-day visit to the Salzburg festival ended at its apex.  Having witnessed the efforts of hundreds of musicians and technicians at the opera, big symphonic works from two great orchestras and conductors, and a nice program of music composed by Salzburg's favorite son, I find that it was a single extraordinary musician who left the most profound impression.

Perhaps I'll see you in Salzburg next summer!  Part of my reason for being there this August was to make plans for a Festivals Tour in 2010, celebrating KUHF's 60th anniversary year.  CEO and General Manager John Proffitt will host the trip, which will include performances in Vienna and at the Bruckner Festival in Linz as well as at the Salzburg Festival.

* Prices at the Mozarteum, though much lower than at the Festival Halls, are still not cheap: a first category ticket for a Mozart Matinee will set you back 135 euros—somewhere in the neighborhood of $200—but if you are willing to accept a seat with limited view, you can get in for $12 or so.
Bio photo of Dean Dalton

Dean Dalton

Host, Houston Symphony Broadcasts

Dean Dalton grew up in a musical family in a smallish town in Missouri. Having sung in church and school choirs from early on, he began to study piano at 8, and took up the viola at 11...