On Genius and Prodigies


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (that would be Los Angeles in 1961 to be exact,) I first heard Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings at one of the famed Heifetz-Piatagorsky Concerts given at the Pilgrimage Theater, now the John Anson Ford Theatre.pennario1(Jascha Haifetz and Gregor Piatagorsky with violist William Primrose and pianist Leonard Pennario –Source: classical.net)

I was so stunned by the piece (and, needless to say, by the performance), that I have rushed to see and hear it whenever possible. That isn’t too often as it requires eight great musicians (two full string quartets) and lots of rehearsal time.

octet2(Source: groupon.com)

That opportunity came again Tuesday night at Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society concert at Alice Tully Hall. Once again, I reveled in this brilliant piece and at the fact that Mendelssohn was 16 years old when he wrote it. What were you doing at 16? I know I wasn’t composing masterpieces.

images(Source: chicagoclassicalreview.com)

When we think of think of prodigies, we immediately think of Mozart and this is only proper as every right-thinking musical person always puts him at the head of every list. However, Mendelssohn was also a prodigy and if you have not heard the Octet, once you do, you will realize it. A year later, he composed the “Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream,” another glorious concert staple. His life was short–he died at 38–but in that brief time, like Mozart who died at 37, he wrote a lot of really good music.

Although I came for the Mendelssohn we also heard Schubert’s Octet. Scored for a string quartet, plus a double bass, horn, bassoon and clarinet, it, too, is not often heard and Rory and I wondered why as we were transported by this–yes–masterpiece. Schubert wrote this mature work at the ripe old age of 27. He had a lot to do before his premature death at 31 and almost everything we have of his bears the mark of genius.

schubert2(Source: rushhour.org)

In music, at least, genius seems to declare itself early, and while I can’t explain it, I am grateful. Both in Mozart’s case and Mendelssohn’s, their talent was nurtured by intense parental efforts, although both prodigies seemed to demand more and more opportunity to create and perform. Possibly, they might have wanted a bit more time for soccer–we don’t know. I do sometimes wonder, however, if they are still composing somewhere and if, at some point in the afterlife, we will get to hear the fulfillment of their talent.

mozart trio(Source: theaustralian.com.au)

I wish I could tell you that there would be another performance of these two works, but last night’s was the last. Do go, however, to these concerts which feature top artists (Minnesota Symphony Concertmaster Erin Keefe led the Schubert and New Haven concertmaster and long time star Ani Kavafian led the Mendelssohn), a hall with fine acoustics (we sat in the next to the last row and heard the softest string), and reasonable prices.

Subscribers save 20% and you can make your own package or you can go for the individual tickets that start at $37. These are among the best concerts you will hear and they are in your back yard–don’t miss them. Go to http://www.chambermusicfilmsociety.org and enjoy.

peter-steiner-mostly-mozart-nothing-it-s-all-mozart-or-no-mozart-new-yorker-cartoon

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