Cynthia Katsarellis likes to travel.
In fact, the director of the Pro Musica Colorado chamber orchestra likes travel so much that she has organized the group’s 2012-13 season as a series of musical journeys, starting with “Mozart Travels to London” Friday and Saturday in Denver and Boulder. Upcoming concerts will be “Mendelssohn goes to Scotland” (Feb. 1-2) and “The Road Home” (April 12-13).
“I’ve always been fascinated by the journeys of composers,” Katsarellis says. “Bach walking all that way to hear Buxtehude” — a prominent older composer and organist who was giving concerts about 250 miles from where Bach lived as a young man — “I found that to be really amazing, and how much Baroque composers knew about each others’ music, despite not having the Internet or fast travel.”
Such stories from the past, combined with Katsarellis’ own professional and personal travels around the world, gave her the idea for the concert series.
“I spend about three months of the year outside the country, and I’ve thought a lot about how formative that is,” she says. “It inspired me to think even more, in two ways actually, about the journeys.
“No. 1 is real journeys of composers and how they’ve influenced each other. [No. 2], I believe that listening to great music can be likened to taking a journey. You know, I think that great, great music can carry you on a human journey like that, in a metaphorical but deeply meaningful way.”
Mozart’s trip to London in 1764-65 is a fitting place for Pro Musica Colorado to start its season of musical journeys. Not only is Mozart a staple of the group’s repertoire, this is likely one of the most important journeys in all of music history. Mozart was just 8 when he arrived in London with his family, on a threeyear tour that included stops in Paris, Brussels and Munich.
This particular journey has a special place in history because the experiences on the tour gave the young composer an extraordinary set of compositional tools.
“No composer was better travelled than the young Mozart,” Katsarellis explains. “His father took him around not only to show off the young prodigy, but also so that the young Mozart could learn about all the compositional styles of all the places that they went to. So he was about as learned as you could get.”
That understanding of styles from all across Europe is one of the traits that mark Mozart’s mature style.
London was especially important for the young Mozart. It was there that he first experienced a vibrant musical life centered on public concerts. He also encountered one of the great influences on his music, Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of J.S. Bach. The two became fast friends, Mozart heard Bach’s music, he arranged the older man’s sonatas as concertos, and they played duets together.
“J.C. Bach is one of the few people that Mozart actually did credit as being a mentor to him,” Katsarellis says.
Two works on the program represent the relationship between the two: J.C. Bach’s Sinfonia in G minor, a work that Mozart could have heard while he was in London and that likely influenced his later symphonies in the same key; and Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E-flat, K. 271, the young composer’s first great concerto, written in Salzburg several years after the visit to London.
“The concerto is a work of incredible invention,” Katsarellis says. “It’s just magnificently charming and inventive. It’s a great piece and we’ll be so excited to do it with [pianist] David Korevaar, because he’s a great collaborator.”
Bach and Mozart make up one half of Pro Musica Colorado’s opening program for the season. The other half takes the performing tradition Mozart encountered in London — public concerts featuring virtuoso orchestras and soloists playing to large paying audiences — into the 20th century with Edward Elgar’s “Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra,” and Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony.”
“I definitely see the Elgar and the Britten pieces as part of that legacy,” Katsarellis says. “We can’t fill in all the gaps of the legacy in one program, but Elgar wrote his ‘Introduction and Allegro’ for the virtuoso string section of the London Symphony, and then there’s Britten with his not-so-‘Simple Symphony.’”
Staying within the streets, rooms and concert halls of London, Pro Musica Colorado’s program travels geographically only a few short miles. But historically, it’s a long way from Bach and Mozart to Elgar and Britten — a journey of some 200 years. And it tells an intriguing story of composers, music, and a great city.
Pro Musica Colorado performs at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver on Friday, Nov. 9 and at First United Methodist Church in Boulder on Saturday, Nov. 10. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door, $5 for students. Visit bit.ly/MozartJourneys.