Mozart is having a moment. Yes, the Classical composer who passed away in 1791 sold more CDs in 2016 than Adele, Beyoncé and Drake—1.25 million to be exact—and the quirky Mozart in the Jungle is a hit on Amazon Prime. If you’re looking for an opportunity to hear his music first-hand from one of the world’s foremost symphonies, than the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart Festival, running now through February 5th, is the place to be.
Over the past few winters, the DSO has hosted winter festivals that have showcased the works of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. This year features the life, times and compositions of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with multiple performances of his various symphonies, concertos and opera overtures, plus a yoga class set to his music for their Om @ The Max series, a marathon of piano sonatas, film screenings and lectures, representing the timeless nature of his tunes.
With the event under way, CultureSource was able to speak with DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin about why Mozart was chosen as this year’s featured artist, Slatkin’s role in organizing the festival, and his thoughts on Mozart’s enduring appeal.
CultureSource: What is the purpose of the DSO Winter Music Festival? How has it grown over the past few years?
Leonard Slatkin: During the winter, many of our regular patrons move to warmer climes. In order for us to fill the hall, we have to reach out to a different audience. By focusing on a theme or composer, this permits us to do not only concerts, but adjunct events, such as lectures, late-night performances, and fun activities to attract a broader public. It has worked well, and we have always exceeded our expectation in regards to audience and budget.
CS: Previous festivals have featured other famous composers such as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. What was behind the decision to feature Mozart this year?
LS: He seemed like the logical choice. People know him from portrayals in film and on the stage, and of course from his music. Unlike the predecessors we chose, the sheer output of Mozart made the festival a bit more complex to program. So we decided on the final six symphonies, the complete concerti for wind instruments, a variety of overtures, and a few smaller works.
CS: As the Music Director of the DSO, what are some of your responsibilities in preparing the Winter Music Festival?
LS: It is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You separate the pieces and then figure out which ones you need to start. Then it is just a matter of filling in the missing components. For this festival, the idea of using DSO musicians as soloists seemed like a great way to showcase who we are and how far we have come.
CS: With all of the different events available to the public, it seems that a multi-dimensional portrait of Mozart will be presented. What do you hope people take away about who Mozart was as a composer, artist and person?
LS: Those who are music aficionados will learn more about his life, the society in which he lived, and the political climate of the time. In addition, they will hear a few pieces rarely encountered in the concert hall. Those who are coming to Mozart for the first time will discover the diversity of this genius.
CS: Despite Mozart’s music being over 200 years old, he was the top-selling musical artist of 2016. What is it about his music that continues to be influential today?
LS: It is not too far off base to say that of all the great composers, Mozart embraced both the musical ethic of the time as well as a fair understanding of his own talent. But it is also fair to say that he is perhaps the most humanistic of the great composers of the classical era. He did not have the ego of Beethoven or obligations to the church, like Bach. We can hear him writing some pieces that are clearly for public consumption and others that he must have known would become everlasting.
CS: What aspects of the Winter Music Festival are you most proud of?
LS: The fact that everyone at Orchestra Hall throws themselves into these projects with every ounce of energy they have. It is not so easy to put on two separate programs each week. Plus, the enormous range of activities keeps all of us on our toes all the time. I am very proud that I had the support to do these and that the public seems to truly enjoy this mid-season departure from standard programming.
All photos courtesy of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
For the full Mozart Fest schedule, click here.