Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Orchestra wrapped up its 2007-08 season with final concerts May 17 and 18. The quality of the programs and the virtuosity of the musicians has attained an extraordinarily high level, but attendance is short of complete. Like all such orchestras, however, ticket sales cover about 20 percent of costs, so donations are necessary. Visit www.Steamboatorchestra.org for more information.
The first piece was Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 2, K417, in three movements, following a common structure of fast (Allegro Maestoso), slow (Andante) and fast again (Rondo). The vigorous last movement suggests riding to hunting horns. The soloist, Jason Johnston, performed splendidly, though the instrument sputtered some. The French horn, I am told, is very difficult to play.
Although Johnston does not qualify as such, the theme of the program could be seen as that of child prodigy. Mozart, for example, published his first work at age 7, but in a story recounted by Steamboat Springs Orchestra music director Ernest Richardson, that sounds as though it might be Mozartian Apocrypha in the tradition of the movie, "Amadeus," which marks Wolfgang as making music on paper at age 4. The music was recognized as a composition, and when his father commented on the difficulty of the piece, the younger Mozart responded, "Of course, it's a concerto."
Felix Mendelssohn was, by comparison, a bit retarded, as he did not publish his first work until age 11. Unfortunately for posterity, he died at 38, a short lifespan shared with Mozart, who lived to 35.
There is a steady stream of child prodigies in classical music, especially female violin soloists. As a general rule, young people are better looking than older people, and so youth sells tickets. Usually, such prodigies are good for their age. Anna Roder at 16 was stunning in a V-neck burgundy gown, but she did not play like a "prodigy," rather a mature violinist. The concerto requires much virtuosity of the soloist as there is a great deal of tremola, which are short strokes of the bow, and harmonics, where the string is not fully depressed to the finger board. Once she began, she was fully absorbed in playing all three movements from memory.
The first movement is slow but ends in a crescendo, the second begins with a lovely lyrical passage as the violin soars around the relatively constant theme of the woodwinds, which then announce the third movement with a quickened tempo. The concerto ends with a wonderfully long crescendo complete with tympani. Anna received a well-deserved and instant standing ovation. My only complaint is that her instrument is not loud enough to fill the hall, and perhaps a "Guarnari del Gesu" would have served her better.
Starting in 1830, Mendelssohn, having tired of German weather, spent several years touring the Continent and the British Isles, paying his way by giving recitals. Several compositions that could be viewed as travelogues came out of these travels, including Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 - "The Italian." In four movements, it begins vigorously.
The second movement suggests a long tramp. In the third, swirling horns announce arrival to Italy, one might suppose. The fourth begins with percussion and is fast-paced and vigorous with horns and tympani and great tremola of strings. Of Mendelssohn's travelogues, it is perhaps easier to conjure up visual images of wave-washed shores in "The Hebrides," than similar imagery in the Italian, but that might make the latter the more modern and sophisticated composition.