By Suzi Steffen
The acoustics at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall are some of the best that classical music audiences will ever experience. The Oregon Mozart Players, a classical-music-playing group that used to be resident in the Hult Center, now make gorgeous music as in Beall, and the soloist playing with the OMP on Saturday, Nov. 5, is a man who was for many years the only acceptable replacement for Yo-Yo Ma.
With all of that info, anyone reading this who hasn’t already should probably get tickets (info at the end of this story) for the Mozart Players’ “Inspiration” concert, where cello soloist Bion Tsang will play Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33” and Paganini’s “Varations on a Theme from Rossini’s Mosé” with the group. The musicians, without the soloist, will also play Korngold’s “Dance in the Old Style” and Strauss’ “Dance Suites After Couperin.”
Those are the bare facts, but artistic director Kelly Kuo has a lot more to say about each of the pieces.*
“Each piece in this concert is inspired by a different musical period, composer, theme or all of the above,” Kuo says.
“For instance, the Korngold, which is a beautiful, charming piece that was found long after his death,” Kuo says. He adds that the piece sees the composer romanticizing “the old style” and adapting it to a more 20th-century style.
The Korngold is not well known or widely played, so it’s a rare chance for Eugene audiences to hear the piece live.
The Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, is widely and well-known, and Kuo says that its virtuosity will be a good showcase for Tsang.
The cellist and Kuo are not only colleagues on the music faculty at the University of Texas at Austin but also experienced musical collaborators. Kuo is a pianist as well as a conductor; he and Tsang played a recital together last year and have another, with several other musicians involved, scheduled for this year. “Bion is a lot of fun,” Kuo says. “And he has a full schedule as a performer – I saw him to discuss tempo issues earlier in the week, and that was the first time he was available for weeks.”
Of course, Kuo, who is a lecturer in Opera Studies at UT, was giving the interview during a break between the second weekend of the school’s performances of two operas by Puccini, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi – he’s not exactly an un-busy guy himself.
The second half of the Mozart Players program includes the Strauss, a piece that Kuo says he “spent a thesis worth of time trying to make some choices about.” That’s because, while Strauss claimed to be honoring the great French Baroque composer François Couperin, “Strauss didn’t have the same access to historically informed performance that we have today,” Kuo says.
In other words, Couperin was specific, and sometimes cranky, about the way performers would use trills and ornaments in his music. “Even when he was alive,” Kuo says, “he was super specific about what he wanted.”
“He would say, ‘Look, I have this guide’ – he gave a cheat sheet saying what all of his symbols meant, and he would get annoyed when performers went against it.”
Strauss, working a couple of centuries later, used different ornamentation even as he claimed to be honoring Couperin’s keyboard pieces, so Kuo wants to meld the two. “There are some fantastic Strauss orchestrations; he’s brilliant,” Kuo says, “and then there are places where he left out ornamentation where Couperin had put it in, and places where he put it in where Couperin left it out … I don’t think there’s a single recording that does what we’re trying to do.”
The eight-movement Strauss piece gives more musicians a chance to join the Mozart Players; the piece needs a harpsichord, a celeste and also some brass. “It’s brilliant!” Kuo says.
The final piece is another one featuring Tsang, this time an adaptation for cello of a piece by Paganini that was intended to be played on the violin. “Our soloist is recording a CD of miniatures,” Kuo says, and this will be one of the pieces on the CD.
One of the best things about this concert might be its novelty for area audiences. “All four of these pieces, I think, Eugene has never heard,” Kuo says. “For these pieces to make their Eugene debuts, it’s very exciting.”
Oregon Mozart Players “Inspiration”
7:30 pm, Saturday, November 5
*pre-concert talk at 6:45 pm in Room 163 of the Music Building
Beall Concert Hall on the University of Oregon campus
Tickets are available through the UO Ticket Office online or at 541-346-4363, 9 am-6 pm M-F
$45; $10 for college students with ID and for younger students who are coming to the concert with an adult.