NEW YORK—As he danced with his knees bending from side to side like an obtuse triangle, internationally acclaimed clarinetist Martin Frost performed and sounded like no other on the closing night of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center Saturday.
Although the Mostly Mozart Festival is a celebration of music from the Classical period, it closed by celebrating all the risky, avant-garde, individuality that is not usually associated with that time.
Frost opened with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major. The clarinet has its origins in France and the Middle East. In Mozart’s time, the clarinet was an alien, exotic, instrument to many areas outside of Europe’s major capitals.
Thus, Mozart’s clarinet concerto was an unprecedented piece that was dedicated fully to this mysterious black tube. The concerto was inspired and dedicated to clarinetist Anton Stadler (1753–1812), the first regular clarinetist of the imperial court orchestra.
Frost had extraordinary control of his dynamics in the concerto. The Swedish clarinetist plays pianissimo at a sound level so soft that it was almost inaudible to the ear; yet, the substance inside the tone was firm.
The distance between each, racing, trill was so impeccably even that it sounded as if he practiced by measuring them with a ruler.
Frost is artistic director of the International Chamber Music Festival in Stavanger, Norway. His repertoire is comprised not only of all the mainstream clarinet works, but also contemporary commissions, such as Anders Hillborg’s “Peacock Tales”—which incorporates elements of mime and dance.
To the listeners’ delightful surprise, Frost agreed to an encore after the Mozart performance. He played “Klezmer Dances,” a traditional piece arranged by his younger brother Goran Frost. The song had a mix of Scandinavian and French flavor.
Frost prepared to begin the first note. He leaned forward dramatically, and scrunched his body. He held that position for a few moments, but no sound came out. A giggle escaped from the audience, as Frost expressly summoned the piece’s feeling to transfer from his soul into his instrument.
Slowly, without moving from that position, Frost released the first note. It felt like there had never been a single, prolonged, note that ever encompassed such rich feeling and tangibility.
Frost brought a feeling of tribal wilderness with a catchy melody. Although it was a new piece, in a way, Frost’s playing brought the audience back to Mozart’s time; we heard the clarinet as an unprecedented sound.
He played the clarinet in ranges that made it sound like a mix between a dancing trumpet and a Chinese suona.
Beethoven Mass in C Major
The evening ended with the Beethoven Mass in C Major, performed by soprano Layla Claire, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Paul Appleby, and bass Matthew Rose. These renowned singers were accompanied by Concert Chorale of New York, and the Mostly Mozart Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée.
The history behind this Mass is yet another story of a musician from the Classical period who took a risk.
Hungarian Prince Nicholas Esterhazy II was known to commission grand masses. The masses were composed annually by the esteemed Joseph Haydn, who also happened to be Beethoven’s teacher.
Beethoven, however, did not give his teacher the fullest respect. Beethoven felt that he was better than Haydn in all regards—except composing liturgical music, which he had never done.
At age 37, Beethoven’s ego became threatened when Esterhazy asked him to compose the Mass that year.
He composed his C Major Mass in a completely novel style for a Mass— his symphonic style.
He didn’t write the Mass in the placid styles of his predecessors. Instead, Beethoven’s composition was based on the dramatic, vivid experiences that people go through with religion.
He composed the Mass at the same time as his fifth and sixth symphonies. The grand, almost chaotic, flavor is found in his Mass as well.
To Beethoven’s dismay, his new Mass was rejected by Esterhazy. “My dear Beethoven, what have you done now?” was said to be Esterhazy’s response.
Fortunately for Beethoven, it was not long before Austrian Prince Ferdinand Kinsky commissioned him to complete the work.
The Mass has five movements. The first movement Kyrie, is the latin phrase for “Lord have mercy on us.” In this movement, Claire’s voice during her solo is so thick and vibrant that it feels like one is being lifted to the heavens as she crescendos.
Langrée cannot help but mouth the lyrics while he conducted. He was completely lost in the music, treasuring the last moments of the Mostly Mozart Festival’s 2012 season along with the audience.
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