The Orchestra of St. Luke’s Starts Its Carnegie Hall Season

An illuminating pairing of Beethoven and Mozart
October 21, 2017 Updated: October 21, 2017

NEW YORK—The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, now in its 43rd year, began its Carnegie Hall season with Mozart’s  “Great” Mass in C Minor and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. The concert was conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, the first conductor laureate the orchestra has appointed in its history.

The interesting idea behind the program was to present works by the two composers—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)—that do not reflect their usual style. Thus, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 is a rather conventional work, which lacks the depth and drama of his later works, while the Mozart Mass reflects those very qualities.

Beethoven had planned to study with Mozart, though any hope of that ended with the older composer’s untimely death. Instead, Beethoven studied with Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). In fact, in 1792, Beethoven’s patron, Count Waldstein, expressed the hope that Beethoven would “receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.”

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 (1800) is an appealing work that reflects the influence of his forebears and doesn’t take off into radically new directions, as he did in his later works.

Heras-Casado led a vibrant performance by the orchestra, conveying both the dance-like movements as well as the slower, lovely Andante movement.

Mozart’s Mass in C Minor was written between 1782 and 1783 and not completed by the composer. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s performed an edition reconstructed and completed by Helmut Eder (1916-2005). Mozart had completed the Kyrie and Gloria sections but finished only two movements of the Credo. He had set the Sanctus section for chorus and the closing Benedictus for an ensemble of soloists.

While the Mass is a dramatic work, pointing toward future developments, it also looked backward to baroque masters Bach and Handel.

(L–R) Soloists Susanna Phillips and Camilla Tilling with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. (Orchestra of St. Luke’s)

The Orchestra was supplemented by the Westminster Symphonic Choir (conducted by Joe Miller) and four solo vocalists: sopranos Camilla Tilling and Susannah Phillips, joined later by tenor Thomas Cooley and finally bass-baritone Michael Sumuel.

The two women had most of the solo work with Tilling facing the most daunting technical challenges in “Christe Eleison” where she asks for the mercy of God and has to shift suddenly from the bottom to the top of her range. She also shone in the aria “Et incarnatus est” about the incarnation by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. Phillips sang beautifully in her own arias and in the duet with Tilling.

The orchestra, choir and soloists were all superb, resulting in a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

The Orchestra of St. Luke’s will return to Carnegie Hall with more Beethoven/Mozart pairings: on Dec. 7 for Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (the “Jupiter Symphony”) and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto;  and on Feb. 15, 2018 for Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto with pianist Jeremy Denk and Mozart’s Symphony No.  40.

Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications, including Epoch Times.