The Mozart Week in Salzburg – in fact ten days of performances from 26 January to 4 February – was planned and organized this year by Maren Hofmeister as interim artistic director, and it was particularly successful especially as regards the number of seats sold. The seating capacity percentage was 95% and over half the concerts were completely sold out, one of the best results in the past six years. Visitors came from 50 different countries, mostly from Austria, Germany and Switzerland, as well as loyal Mozart-lovers from France and the United Kingdom. The increase in comparison with previous years could well be due to the fact that one of the major highlight’s on this year’s programme was a new staging of Mozart’s Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), performed three times in the Haus für Mozart in the festival quarter of Salzburg. Musically the production was a triumph with a cast of outstanding young singers: Sebastian Kohlhepp (Belmonte), Julian Prégardien (Pedrillo), David Steffens (Osmin), Robin Johannsen (Konstanze) and Nikola Hillebrand (Blonde), all of whom left behind the impression among the audience of wanting to hear them again and soon. René Jacobs conducted the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin playing on period instruments. They produced a wonderful sound both as an orchestra ensemble as well as with superb instrumental solo playing when accompanying the singers in their hugely demanding arias, all performed with supreme virtuosity.
Concerts by Sir András Schiff and his exquisite ensemble the Cappella Andrea Barca are guaranteed to be a highlight of every Mozart Week. The ensemble takes its name from the Italian version of András Schiff, and was first formed for the project inaugurated in 1999 to perform all Mozart’s Piano Concertos. The programmes have a distinct character, and this year, besides Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491, András Schiff played two piano concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, composed for two pianos – Schiff was joined by the young German-trained pianist Schaghajegh Nosrati, who is also a soloist in his international concert series Building Bridges.
Visitors to the Mozart Week in Salzburg get used to crossing the bridges over the River Salzach which divides the city into the old town centre and the not-so-old part on the right bank. The Grosses Festspielhaus (Large Festival Hall) is the venue for the three traditional concerts given by the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Haus für Mozart, claiming to have perfect dimensions and acoustics for the performances of Mozart operas, is also in the festival quarter. Most concerts in the Mozart Week do, however, take place in the more intimate surroundings of the of the Mozarteum, perfect for symphonic and chamber music as well as recitals. And throughout the week, a certain familiar atmosphere evolves as visitors become acquainted with each other, and all with the common goal of sharing the experience of hearing outstanding interpretations of Mozart’s music.
French conductor Alain Altinoglu made his highly successful debut at this year’s Mozart Week conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in a symphony concert. He has already built up good rapport with the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, many of whose players become members of the Vienna Philharmonic – a unique constellation in European music making. Piotr Anderszweski was the soloist in one of Mozart’s most majestic piano concertos, K. 503, and following the rapturous applause, he played an encore – not something that happens often at the Mozart Week.
Munich-born composer, conductor and virtuoso clarinettist Jörg Widmann was featured in a series of concerts at this year’s Mozart Week. He explained in captivating manner to audiences at a morning concert how he was inspired by Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet to compose a work scored for the same instruments but at the first attempt failed. He said that in 2009 his humility and admiration of masterpieces by Mozart, as well as by Weber or Brahms, brought his life project clarinet quintet to a temporary halt and that music history suddenly appeared as a great burden to him. Eight years later, in 2017, he returned to his plans, and this time the music seemed to pour out of him. He was especially pleased to give the world premiere of his Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet in Madrid in April 2017 with the Hagen Quartet and now at the Mozart Week they gave the highly acclaimed first performance in Austria. Audiences were very appreciative of Jörg Widmann’s explanations of similarities (played on the piano) between certain motifs and those in Mozart’s work. After the interval there was the direct chance to listen and compare; what is absolutely clear is Jörg Widmann’s love of his instrument as demonstrated in his interpretation of the Clarinet Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic two days later.
French pianist David Fray made his first appearance at the Mozart Week, playing works by Mozart and Bach on a modern Steinway piano in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum. A very special experience is to hear Mozart piano sonatas played on his own fortepiano. This needs a smaller hall such as to be found in the Wiener Saal of the Mozarteum, and virtuoso pianist and musicologist Robert Levin treated his audience to an idea of how performances might have sounded in Mozart’s lifetime: he played repetitions freely, and included some improvisation. When Robert Levin does this, it is certainly not a question of disrespect but the revival of a documented tradition; he also played his own completions of works Mozart left behind as fragments.
On the two Sundays during Mozart Week there is always a chance to hear some of the marvellous church music Mozart composed while he lived here. The Franciscan Church as well as the Cathedral, where Mozart was organist and orchestra director, with their excellent ensembles and choirs perform masses as part of the liturgy.
The final concert at this year’s Mozart Week in Salzburg was a pointer towards what can be expected in future seasons. Tenor Rolando Villazón, Mozart Ambassador of the International Mozarteum Foundation and now also Artistic Director of the Mozart Week, presented and performed a special concert exploring the relationship between Mozart and his wife Constanze. The programme contained the ‘Linz’ Symphony, performed in separate movements, interspersed with arias from the operas The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute as well as concert arias, and with his exuberant charm Villazon also read excerpts from letters written by Mozart to his wife. This idea will also be taken up again next year, when Rolando Villazón is responsible for programming the entire Mozart Week. He intends to concentrate entirely on works by Mozart but will include new formats such as a ballet gala in the Landestheater, shadow theatre and performances by the Salzburg Marionettes. And Mozart’s birthday, on 27 January, will be celebrated all day long Mexican style with Los Mariachis Negros singing outside the Mozart Birthplace, the Mozart Residence and on the Mozartplatz. Much to reflect on from this year and lots to look forward to next.