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Mozart on the map
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra pinpoints the birth of genius
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Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with Adam Neiman
Friday, April 27, Overture Center's Capitol Theater, 8 pm

In keeping with the classical ideal that all good things are worth repeating, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will end its Masterworks season this Friday just as it began last October - with the elegant lilt of Mozart. "Symphony No. 38" ("Prague") will show off Mozart's later style, while piano concertos 8 and 9 will flaunt his youthful sassiness under the nimble fingers of young American pianist Adam Neiman.

Neiman, an award-winning Juilliard graduate, plays an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire but has a special place in his heart for Mozart.

"Mozart was revolutionary," says Neiman. "He was daring, exciting, colorful and dynamic. But there is also a sublime quality to his music that just floats into the stratosphere. I love that contrast."

The pairing of "Piano Concerto No. 8" (K. 246) with "No. 9" (K. 271) is a stroke of programming genius. While 271 is very popular, its appearance with 246, or any of the earlier piano concertos, is unusual. Even on CDs, it's hard to find piano concertos before 271 unless you buy the entire set.

"Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos, and they are a wonderful diary that shows his artistic development clearly," says Andrew Sewell, music director of the WCO.

No. 8, composed when Mozart was 20, is in the clean key of C major. It's technically easier than the ninth concerto that Mozart wrote at 21, but Neiman contends that there is no easy Mozart.

"The music is very exposed, and a lot of detail has to be worked out since Mozart didn't often give clear direction as to dynamics or articulation. Yes, No. 8 is slightly easier, but it has daring texture, speed and virtuosity. It was his first great concerto."

Sometimes called the "Jeunehomme concerto," the ninth was dedicated to a young woman referred to in Mozart's letters simply as "jenomÃ."

"Not much is known about her, but I think Mozart probably had a crush on her because the second movement is so passionate," says Neiman. She must have been an exceptional pianist to meet the demands of the ninth.

"I've played at least half of Mozart's piano concertos, and the ninth is the hardest to wrap your fingers around in my opinion," Neiman says. "The third movement goes at breakneck speed, and then suddenly it becomes a slow minuet. It's as if you're thrown into a whole different concerto. It broke with tradition, and in that way the ninth is to Mozart what 'Eroica' was to Beethoven."

Mozart wrote "Symphony No. 38" (K. 504) at 30. He was living in Vienna and immersed in his new opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

"The symphony has an operatic influence," says Sewell. "You can hear singing in it."

After this concert, the WCO and Neiman will record Mozart's piano concertos 6, 8, 9 and "Symphony No. 38" for worldwide distribution. Knowing these musicians, this won't be one of those stately, reverent Mozart recordings, but one full of gusto and soul.

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