Classical audiences know that they are not supposed to applaud until a piece is over. Nevertheless, when Joshua Bell and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée, the Festival’s music director, finished the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the house erupted in applause. The musicians did not look surprised, since this no doubt happened the night before at Avery Fisher Hall when they performed the same program.
This concert, part of the final week of the Festival, started with a Mozart symphony and ended with Tchaikovsky’s concerto. What did the two works have in common, aside from the fact that they were created by two of the most popular composers of all time? The answer is the speed with which they were written.
In 1783, Mozart and his wife Constanze had arrived in Linz, Austria on their way to Vienna. A local aristocrat, Count Thun, whom Mozart knew, entertained the young couple in high style. To the composer’s surprise, the Count asked him to perform a new symphony at a concert to be held five days later. Mozart had not packed any recent works in his luggage and, being a genius, he set about to write one by the end of the week. The result is his Symphony No. 36 in C major (known as “The Linz Symphony”). Mozart did not have a high opinion of the work, viewing it as something he just dashed off under the influences of Joseph Haydn’s symphonies as well as Michael Haydn (Joseph’s brother, with whom Mozart had a close relationship).
Performed as the opening work at the Mostly Mozart concert, the Linz proved to be a more enduring piece than the composer had anticipated. Langrée and his forces gave a charming rendition. There may be an influence from Joseph Haydn (who was no slouch himself) and his characteristic wit but Mozart’s melodic invention also shines through.
The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was also written in haste, not because the composer faced a deadline but because he was going through a productive and (rarely for him) happy period. He was in the resort town of Clarens in Switzerland during 1878, enjoying the company of a violinist and composition student named Yosif Kotek. Tchaikovsky completed the work in 11 days and orchestrated it within the following two weeks. The work is so captivating that it’s hard to that the violinist to whom it was dedicated (not Kotek but Leopold Auer) declared it unplayable and the first performance, by another violinist, Adolf Brodsky, received an unfavorable reception.
Since then, the melodic Concerto has been played by countless virtuosos and orchestras and is among the most popular classical works. Joshua Bell is one of our leading violinists and he was dazzling at the concert. The orchestra accompanied him superbly. After the deafening applause, the soloist and orchestra returned for a brief encore: Tchaikovsky’s ‘Mélodie’ (from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher”).
The works on the program may have been quickly, but when they are performed as well as at the Mostly Mozart concert, they invariably enchant audiences.