Kimmel Center, Perelman Theater
January 27, 2006
January 27th, 2006 is the 250th Anniversary of Mozart's birth, and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia has dedicated a series of concerts to the great classical composer. Of these, "Mozart: Reloaded was, to say the least, the most unusual. It incorporated elements of classical music, jazz, dance, electronic music, film, and- believe it or not, a large steel drum band- in a set of performances that honored the composer yet with each taking its own creative direction.
I am reviewing the concert on All About Jazz for two reasons: 1) It featured several jazz based pieces, and 2) it spoke roundly to the crossing of disciplines and the combining of varied musical formats and media elements which have become a major part of the jazz scene today such that the boundary between what is "jazz and what is "not jazz have lost much of its distinction.
In this particular concert the distinction was completely lostand rightly so, since the whole purpose of the performances was to transcend definitions and allow a creative process to emerge. As such, it proved to be a wonderful musical experience that honored Mozart's spirit while exploring diverse new territory.
Andrea Clearfield is a composer and scholar who for two decades has held a series of "Salons in her home which hark back to the nineteenth century events hosted by patrons of the arts in Paris that included musical performances, art exhibitions, readings, and discussions. From the ferment of the many innovative performances that have taken place in her living room, she drew on musicians with an experimental bent to "push the envelope using sources in Mozart's music. The result was a most lively, energetic, mind-expanding, and at times delightfully humorous evening that kept the overflow audience wide awake and at times thrilled.
The night began appropriately with the boundary-pushing jazz pianist Uri Caine performing his composition "Improvisations on themes from Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 545. The piece had something of the flavor of Caine's groundbreaking "Urlicht (Primal Light) which was based on the work of Gustav Mahler and utilized various musical and sonic improvisations to create novel formats and a fresh appreciation of the great composer. On this evening, Caine did the same for Mozart. He began by quietly stating Mozart's themes in each movement and then taking it into modernistic territories of improvisation. The composition moved from Mozart to the late romantics and- yes- contemporary jazz. The ending was aroused and stormy, covering all registers of the piano and achieving divine madness. Mozart was probably the most understated of composers, covering moods from sweetness to humorous to deep and brooding in a gentle and genuine way that has persevered through the ages. Mr. Caine "unpacked these moods into the full range and capabilities of modernism and the jazz idiom.
The following performance consisted of two Mozart arias from the opera "The Marriage of Figaro sung by jazz vocalist Joanna Pascale accompanied by vibraphonist Tony Miceli, bassist Madison Rast (Joanna's spouse), and drummer Butch Reed. This was done in a strictly straight-ahead mainstream jazz idiom. Ms. Pascale sung the arias in a literal way but with the laconic sound of a jazz diva that captured Mozart's combination of lyricism and light irony. By contrast, Miceli's solos were done at breakneck speed yet with agility and subtlety, stunning the audience with their virtuosity. Reed took a superb solo at the end of "Voi che sapete that was both intense and expressive.
The next piece was totally unique. Violinist Gloria Justen, like Mozart in "The Magic Flute, took childhood stories and wove them into a tale of her own about a lady fox's adventures with a magic alchemical box that could transform the four elements- earth, air, fire, and water- into gold. Justen pre-recorded all the music- violin and electronic- and pantomimed the violin playing while telling the story. The music itself was quite interesting, but overshadowed by Ms. Justen's dramatic and humorous buffo movements and feinting of violin playing. Overall, this was a delightful rendering of the archetypal theme of the "wild woman with a Jungian twist.
While the stage was being set for a multimedia piece, accordionist Lidia Kaminska performed two rare organ works by Mozart. Indeed, Ms. Kaminska is a master musician and was able to articulate the works with near perfection on what is an inherently unwieldy and difficult instrument to play. She is arguably in my opinion the greatest living accordion player in the world. In addition, her body movements while she played were nothing less than captivating and sensual.