Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died at the young age of 35 in 1791, and there was a lot of mystery surrounding his death. Did he succumb to rheumatic fever? A kidney disease? Or was he poisoned? Mozart was a gifted, but troubled man. When he died he was buried in an unmarked grave and only five people attended his third class funeral. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the steady baton of Marin Alsop, attempted to put these mysteries to rest and try to conclusively determine the great composer’s demise through an enjoyable evening of comedy, drama, and a beautifully executed display of Mozart’s greatest works.
As the BSO did with CSI: Beethoven in 2008, Playwright-in-Residence Densie Balle crafted an enjoyable evening filled with some mysterious forensic analysis and playful reenactments. The main star of the evening was Maestro Alsop herself, who besides leading her expert musicians, became a bit of the “straight man” to the evening’s performers. Who knew that Alsop could deliver punchy one-liners and hold her own against the more season actors accompanying her on stage.
Starring as the master himself, local favorite Sasha Olinick returned to the role he brilliantly played a few seasons ago at Round House Theatre. Olinick delivers a bravura performance as the man so gifted he was a ball of energy running around stage. Whether delivering some of Balle’s heartfelt monologues or playfully sparring with his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (Tony Tsendeas) or intently listening to the BSO, he inhabited the role and made an enjoyable evening even more so.
As for the script itself, Balle did a fine job creating a fun and informative story without becoming too technical and boring. Also in the cast was Hyla Mathews as both Mozart’s sister (Nannerl) and wife (Constanze) and Richard Pilcher in the dual role of his father Leopold, and rival, Anton Salieri. It was a playful script anchored by Alsop as narrator and Dr. William Dawson (Thomas Keegan) as chief forensic investigator. The real Dr. Dawson, who was a technical advisor on the piece, was present for the Q and A session with Ms. Alsop and Ms. Barre afterwards.
While the program was designed more as an episode of CSI, the BSO did not play second fiddle. Each of their excerpts where brilliantly mastered. Some of the standouts of the evening, was Mozart’s technically challenging Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K. 622) played exquisitely by BSO principal clarinetist, Steven Barta. His pleasantly navigated the wide range of the solo with great ease that we was very deserving of the brief pause in the program as the audience acknowledged him. Other soloists to show their fine craft was principal bassoonist, Fei Xie, and Steinway Artist, pianist Lura Johnson.
As an ensemble the BSO’s finest moment of the night came in their brief excerpt from Symphony No. 41 in C Major (K. 551), coined “Jupiter Symphony”. Mozart weaved together a progression of octave shifts throughout the motif, that the BSO brought to life with playful vigor. Ms. Alsop comes a from a musical family: her father K. Lamar Alsop, the principal violinist with the New York City Ballet recently passed away, as did her cellist mother, Ruth Alsop. Even though there was no indication that the evening’s performance was dedicated to their memory, you could tell that Alsop was honoring the legacy of her parents in this fine evening.
And to answer the question: How did Mozart die? Without spoiling the ending: Mozart the man, may have died, but his music and legacy is eternal.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Off The Cuff CSI: Mozart performed for one-night only on February 28, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events, check their calendar.