The Salzburg Festival is back in business, although it was never really out of it: the festival was held last year, though with fewer performances and fewer patrons. This year, you need a vaccination card—or proof of a recent test (negative)—to get into a festival hall. You also need a mask—and not just any mask but an FFP2 mask.
I will have more to say about all this in an upcoming “chronicle” for the magazine. In any event: the show is going on here in Salzburg, as it has for more than a hundred years now.
This is Mozart’s town, and I tap this post a couple of houses away from his—his house, I mean. And a short walk away is the Mozarteum, in whose glittering, great room—the Grosser Saal—a Mozart concert was held. This was on Saturday morning, starting at eleven o’clock. A civilized time for music.
On the stage was the house orchestra, meaning the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg. Wielding the baton was Ivor Bolton, the conductor laureate of the orchestra. He is a Brit who presently holds positions in Madrid, Basel, and Dresden.
Did I say “wielding the baton”? He went without one, and without a tie, too, which was a smart move, in this hot hall.
The first work on the program was Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds. And who were they? The wind soloists? They were first-deskmen (as we used to say) of the orchestra. In other words, principal players, or first chairs. More about them in a moment.
Mozart’s work began in unhappy fashion, as the orchestra was not unified. But this disunity soon disappeared and the work had discipline and character. Ivor Bolton does not let the notes sit dead on the page, and neither do those in his charge.
Also, the hall fit the music, or the music fit the hall. Often, we hear Mozart in halls too big for the guy—too big for his pieces. The music may be swallowed up. But in a place such as the Grosser Saal, the music is fully alive in your ears.
Isabella Unterer was our oboist, and she sang splendidly on her instrument. Her phrasing—her breathing (is there a difference?)—was exemplary.
I pause here to quote from her bio—something offbeat:
Isabella Unterer has recently been studying psychokinesiology according to Waltraud Huber and logotherapy according to Viktor Frankl at the Institute for Existential Analysis and Logotherapy in Salzburg.
Rob van de Laar, the French horn—who played a Mozart concerto with the orchestra last year—began brilliantly. He was nimble, supple, accurate. Practically Dohresque. Later in the work, he proved himself slightly more human, as the instrument—this bear of an instrument—inevitably makes you do.
Ferdinand Steiner was the able clarinetist. And about the bassoonist, Philipp Tutzer—also able—let me say this: he looks rather like his instrument. Which put me in mind of a memory.
In 2019, I went to Elko, Nevada, to cover the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. There is plenty of music, along with poetry. Let me quote from an installment of my journal:
Rob Quist sings with his daughter, Halladay. . . . Halladay is a tall drink o’ water, who plays a number of instruments. She also sings beautifully—beguilingly and beautifully. There’s a touch of Peggy Lee about her.
I happen to meet Halladay in a taco line. “What’s that last instrument you were playing?” I ask her. “Electric upright bass,” she answers. “You and it kind of match,” I say. “Yes,” she laughs, “tall and slender.” “That’s such an enviable build. I wish I were tall and slender,” I say. Then she says—I swear, and she says it in all innocence—“You’re tall.”
At the Mozarteum, Sabine Devieilhe, the French soprano, walked out to sing some Mozart arias. I reviewed this woman, in recital in New York, during the 2018–19 season: here. In Salzburg, she walked out in a mask—and then (fortunately) took it off. There’s a television show now, isn’t there? The Masked Singer.
Devieilhe, Bolton, and the orchestra began with a concert aria: “Alcandro, lo confesso—Non sò d’onde viene.” Then there was an aria—one of the Queen of the Night’s—from The Magic Flute: “O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn.” Finally, there was another concert aria: “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!”
Sabine Devieilhe is a smart, smart singer. She sings like an instrumentalist, frankly. She is a singing musician. She is clean, correct, and pure. She can sing way, way above the staff. In her final aria, she went from a low G, as I recall, to a high E flat in one pure, perfect swoop. This is a technique.
Was she moving? Affecting? She was very much so in that third aria. And when it was all over, I felt like a heel for not standing. No one in the hall did. I rationalized as I usually do: “I’ll stand in my review.”
The concert ended with a symphony—No. 38 in D, nicknamed the “Prague.” Mainly, I stopped reviewing, mentally, and let the D major wash over me. When Mozartean D major washes over you in the Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum—that’s a great bath.
Players in the orchestra loved what they were doing. This was written on their faces. The flute and the oboe—Bernhard Krabatsch and Sasha Calin—grooved to their (repeated) duets. On the podium, Ivor Bolton was both spirited and knowing. Moreover, he has some of the best facial expressions in music.
The audience in the Grosser Saal called him back over and over, wanting to applaud him and the orchestra—and Mozart, I suppose. And the festival. I guarantee you, an American audience would have been seated at lunch already by the time these festivalgoers stopped applauding.