As the orchestra for the annual Vivaldi by Candlelight concerts, the Vivaldi Virtuosi have been a staple of the holiday season for many years. But this year they’ll be doing an additional concert – they’ll close out the Virtuoso Series season this Sunday with a concert in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. And music director Gerald Elias, the Utah Symphony’s former associate concertmaster, is thrilled about it. “The Virtuoso Series contacted me about a year ago and invited us to do a concert,” Elias said in an interview with Reichel Recommends. “My only concern was that it wouldn’t conflict with the Candlelight series, since it’s an important fundraiser for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.”
For Sunday’s concert, the Vivaldi Virtuosi (whose members are mostly Utah Symphony players) aren’t restricted to playing the music of their namesake or other baroque composers, so Elias has chosen a program spotlighting works from the early classical era. “Since we have more freedom, I decided on a program of early classical works.”
Josef Myslivecek will be one of the composers featured at the concert. If the name doesn’t ring a bell that’s because Myslivecek is one of the scores of composers from the 18th century who has fallen into obscurity today, although he enjoyed immense popularity in his day. “Myslivecek was more popular than Mozart,” Elias said. “To give you an idea how popular he was, in a 20 year period he had more operas performed than anyone else.”
Elias believes there is a simple answer to why Myslivecek has been forgotten – he was overshadowed by two of his contemporaries. “I think he’s a fine composer but the incomparable genius of Mozart and Haydn just wiped out the competition.”
Myslivecek lived from 1737 to 1781; he was five years younger than Haydn and died a decade before Mozart. He was Czech by birth but made his career in Italy and was, for a number of years, good friends with the Mozart family. “That lasted until Leopold thought Myslivecek had cheated Wolfgang out of a commission,” Elias said. “But, then, Leopold thought that of everyone.”
Elias said that the sinfonia by Myslivecek that they’ll be playing is “very much in the style of a Vivaldi sinfonia.” It’s in three short, connected movements in the order of fast-slow-fast and has the structure one finds in Vivaldi’s works.
Domenico Cimarosa is another composer on Sunday’s program. He’s perhaps best remembered today for an oboe concerto, but he also wrote in many genres, including a large number of operas. “He wrote an opera every year,” Elias said. “He was one of the big stars of the stage.” Elias and his ensemble will play the overture to Cimarosa’s one act farce, The Anguished Impresario on Sunday. “It’s energetic and lyrical and representative of the style of writing that was popular at the time.”
Rounding out the program will be two works by the young Mozart: the Divertimento in D major, K. 251, and the Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201.
“The symphony represents a real sea change in how symphonies were thought of,” Elias said. “Myslivecek’s is charming and well written, but Mozart’s No. 29 represents an emotional investment in the music. It’s a real turning point in music history.”
The divertimento, on the other hand – written for Mozart’s sister’s name day in July 1776 – has a very “folksy” feel to it and is very “bubbly,” he said.
Elias knew the piece from the radio without knowing who the composer was. “There was a program on NPR on the east coast called ‘A Word to the Wise’ and they had this as their theme music. I didn’t know what it was so I emailed the station.” After a while he got a reply which didn’t help him a lot. “All it said was that they really didn’t know what it was, but that it might be something by Mozart.” Elias sent the station another email asking if they could narrow it down further. “They said it was one of Mozart’s divertimenti, and that set me on my search until I found the right one.”
- What: Vivaldi Virtuosi, Gerald Elias, conductor
- Venue: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
- Time and Date 7:30 p.m. March 25
- Tickets: $25 reserved, $5 students, U. students free
- Phone: 801-581-7100
- Web: www.kingsburyhall.org