Friday, July 10, 2015

Mitsuko Uchida & Mozart

No. 205 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

As we launch into a special Podcast series featuring Mozart’s piano concertos, I thought I would share some of my musings on the subject.

As a group [27 “numbered concertos” and numerous single movement or fragmentary works] Mozart’s piano concertos represent quite a feat, a feat unchallenged by any other composer since. Before Mozart, except for Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach (with nearly 50 keyboard concertos), nobody has composed as many of these kinds of works. Since Mozart, even the most prolific composers of music for the instrument haven’t published as many – Beethoven (5 “numbered”, one without opus, his Triple concerto and the transcription of the violin concerto) probably has the most, followed by the likes of Camille Saint-Saëns and Sergei Rachmaninov.

So, Mozart’s output in itself is noteworthy.

Mozart’s concertos span the length of his career – from his early adolescence (with concertos that may not be entirely original) to the latter parts of his mature career. We can imagine Mozart writing not only for his audience or his patrons; he wrote for himself as he performed these as soloist. The music is inventive, fresh and, though in many ways the music is tame for those who listen to it, I’m sure they are challenging to play. Interestingly, when the yearly competition season comes along, we hear all the early and late romantic concertos – Brahms, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and even Beethoven. Maybe because they are less flashy and in many ways more subtle and personal, we rarely hear the Mozart concertos in a competition setting. I don’t know what to make of that, to be quite honest.

There is no “common characteristic” to these concertos. Depending on when in the course of Mozart’s career they were composed, I guess we can think of them as a snapshot of the composer’s style and influences, or see how Mozart matures as a composer as the set evolves. We can, like in the case of Haydn and the “classical symphony” see a trend in how Mozart crafts his concertos, and that’s certainly evident from, say, concerto no. 9 onwards. The keyboard virtuosity of the first movement (assorted with an elaborate cadenza), the pensive and meditative slow movement and the effervescent rondo finale, also augmented by a cadenza. This “structure” will be the de-facto standard adopted by most romantic composers, with very few excursions. “Rach 2” isn’t very different from the K. 467 concerto, when you think of it in those terms…

So far on our ongoing series of podcasts, we have programmed relatively few of the “numbered” concertos by Mozart: no. 1, no. 10, no. 21 and no. 26. We can also add no. 8 if we consider a featured concerto from a “Once Upon the Internet” Tuesday blog. Nos 10 and 26 were recycled in our Podcast Vault series.

To those 5, I will be adding 12 more, in sets of 3, performed on alternating weeks by some great artists. In the case of Mitsuko Uchida, Geza Anda and Murray Perahia, these were at one point part of an ambitious “complete cycle” of the concertos. I haven’t yet tapped into the Ashkenazy or the Barenboim “complete cycles”…

Born in Atami, a seaside town close to Tokyo, Japan, Mitsuko Uchida moved to Vienna, Austria, with her diplomat parents when she was 12 years old, after her father was named the Japanese ambassador to Austria. She enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music to study with Richard Hauser, and later Wilhelm Kempff and Stefan Askenase, and remained in Vienna to study when her father was transferred back to Japan after five years. She gave her first Viennese recital at the age of 14 at the Vienna Musikverein. She also studied with Maria Curcio, the last and favourite pupil of Artur Schnabel.

A performer who brings a deep insight into the music she plays through her own search for truth and beauty, Mitsuko Uchida performs with the world’s finest orchestras and musicians.  Some highlights from recent years include her Artist-in-Residency at the Cleveland Orchestra, where she directed all the Mozart concerti from the keyboard over a number of seasons.  (Amongst many current projects, Uchida is recording a selection of Mozart’s Piano Concerti with the Cleveland Orchestra, directing from the piano: all of the discs in this series have received critical acclaim, including a Grammy Award in 2011.) She has also been the focus of a Carnegie Hall Perspectives series entitled ‘Mitsuko Uchida: Vienna Revisited’.  She has featured in the Concertgebouw’s Carte Blanche series where she collaborated with Ian Bostridge, the Hagen Quartet, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra as well as directing from the piano a performance of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  Uchida has also been Artist-in-Residence at the Vienna Konzerthaus, Salzburg Mozartwoche, Lucerne Festival and with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom she performed a series of chamber music concerts and a Beethoven Piano Concerti cycle with Sir Simon Rattle.

A naturalised-British citizen, shewas named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009,

The concertos I selected today are from her original "complete" cycle of the Mozart concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Jeffrey Tate.

I think you will love this music too.

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