The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra live broadcast this Saturday

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
April 7, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — There's nothing like playing Mozart AND conducting from the piano bench; it's the ultimate experience.

That's what pianist/conductor/musician extraordinaire and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Artistic Partner Christian Zacharias tells me.

So it will be our shared delight to hear him in a program this weekend when he'll conduct in a traditional manner from the podium, and also conduct while playing a Mozart piano concerto.

As if that doesn't tap into all of his skills, he will also join a handful of players for a spectacular chamber music piece that Mozart called his finest work - his Wind Quintet.

I'll be there through it all, hosting live from the Ordway Center on Classical MPR at 8:00 this Saturday night.

The program is called "Mozart and his Contemporaries." The music is all from one year - 1784 - a marvelously productive time for Mozart and he was leaving behind the world of a mere entertainer, and taking on the larger mantle of a serious composer.

Zacharias says that his 16th piano concerto and his wind quintet and not show-pieces in the sense that the audience will know when to yell "bravo!" They are more complex and nuanced and this is what Zacharias particularly enjoys, especially as he studies and lives with the music over many, many rehearsals.

The Mozart pieces are bookended with two symphonies, one by a composer who is unfamiliar to most of us, Joseph Martin Kraus. And this is a shame as his music is thrilling. He writes in the 'sturm und drang' style; a literary device of stormy passion that was also used heavily by Haydn.

Kraus had a short life. He was born the same year as Mozart and died one year after Mozart. He spent most of his life in Sweden, but this symphony was performed in Haydn's home of Esterhazy, and later studied by Beethoven.

Haydn played around with sturm und drang early in his symphonies, and by his 80th, he begins to poke fun at the style. What feels serious and heavy, lightens up to almost parody, teasing the listeners about when the end of the piece has been reached.

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