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Understanding Sonic History


hornwGrand Harmonie, our favorite local self-directed period wind ensemble, gives an all-Mozart program Gods and Mortals with Cynthia Roberts solo violin on Sunday at 3pm in the United Parish Church Brookline. Leading the expanded forces from the concertmaster’s chair, Roberts promises to animate Mozart’s 41st Symphony, Jupiter. Roberts will solo in Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A, K. 219 and will join Grand Harmonie’s principal strings in  the Serenata Notturna K. 239.

Having begun as a period wind contingent, GH, over the course of its five years, has expanded its repertoire and the size as the music demands—sometimes, as in this case, to a full Mozart orchestra. At the same time, they strive to retain the mentality of a chamber group, both by being artist-run and by often playing without a conductor. They style themselves as the only group in the country specifically focused on Classical and Romantic music performed on period instruments.

BMInt recently asked asked GH co-founder Kristin Olson how violinist Cynthia Roberts came to this program.

KO: I’ve known Cynthia for many years, first as a teacher during her early music training at Juillard, then as a colleague in many early music performances in the New York area. It’s a real joy to put this program together with someone of her energy, knowledge, and musical sensitivity.

You note online that the Mozart Serenata Notturna K. 239 is “delightfully weird.” Please elaborate.

It’s not very often that one gets to hear a solo timpani duetting with pizzicato strings! Part of the charm of this piece is the novelty of its instrumentation, but there are also several inside jokes which must have been well known to listeners of the period – the last movement has two sections which barely relate to the music that came before, and must be quotes from popular pieces known at the time. But apart from that, it gives several solo players chances to shine where solos are scarce in the repertoire, including the double bass and the timpani.

Sir George Grove called the “Jupiter” Symphony the “greatest orchestral work of the world which preceded the French Revolution.” Can you still make it fresh and revolutionary?

Every time we look at this piece, we discover new details. Mozart’s superb skills at counterpoint in the last movement are well known, but as wind players, we’re constantly struck by Mozart’s talents as an orchestrator. An example we discovered in wind sectional rehearsals the other day: the first movement of Jupiter has a jarring C minor chord which erupts out of silence. This chord would be surprising in any performance, but on period instruments, the voicing of the chord makes it even more dissonant! The natural brass are playing open fifths, and their overtones combine to create a faint resultant tone of E natural, which clashes wildly with the E-flat which is being sounded by the high winds. This effect is almost impossible to replicate on modern instruments.

What’s so Turkish about the “Turkish” Violin Concerto? (Violin Concerto in A K. 219)

Keeping with the theme of inside jokes, after a very traditional minuet-rondo opening, the last movement transitions to a wild gypsy episode which features Mozart’s highly stylized “Turkish” elements: wailing oboes reminiscent of a Middle Eastern shawm, spooky chromatic slides, and bagpipe drones in the horns. Some of the music is reminiscent of Mozart’s equally famous Rondo alla Turca, and also reminds us of the last movement of the Gran Partita, which has similar characteristics.

Up and coming for Grand Harmonie?

We have several exciting projects in the pipeline. In late November through mid-December, we’re providing the “backing track” for a staged production of Amadeus in Boston by Moonbox Productions. In February we travel to New York to play George Onslow’s obscure but beautiful Romantic wind quintet, and in March we return to Boston for a party-concert featuring Weber’s wild Concertino for Horn, a Beethoven concert aria, a period wind arrangement of Mozart’s Seraglio Overture, and Beethoven’s irreverent First Symphony.

Cynthia Roberts
Cynthia Roberts

Gran Harmonie’s “Gods and Mortals”
United Parish, 210 Harvard St, Brookline
Sunday at 3:00

Mozart: Violin Concerto in A K. 219
Mozart: Serenata Notturna K. 239
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 Jupiter

Tickets are general admission and are $15-$35


Cynthia Roberts is one of America’s leading baroque violinists and has appeared as soloist, leader, and recitalist throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. She has served as concertmaster of the New York Collegium, Apollo’s Fire, Concert Royal, and Les Arts Florissants. She performs regularly with the Boston Early Music Festival, Tafelmusik, and the American Bach Soloists. She has appeared with the London Classical Players, Taverner Players, Clarion Music Society, and Smithsonian Chamber Players. Her playing was featured on the soundtrack of the film Casanova and she has performed live on the Late Show with David Letterman. She recently toured South America as concertmaster of the Los Angeles ensemble Musica Angelica with actor John Malkovich in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer and appeared as guest soloist and concertmaster with the New World Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Ms. Roberts teaches at the University of North Texas, The Juilliard School, and the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute. Her recording credits include Sony, Analekta, BMG/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, and Eclectra.

At age 12, Ms. Roberts debuted with Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony, performing the Mendelssohn Concerto, and three years later appeared as soloist with the Boston Pops. Recent highlights include recordings of sonatas and trios with fortepianist Christoph Hammer, a national broadcast on NPR’s Performance Today of Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, a solo performance of Bach’s Sonatas for Violin & Violin & Harpsichord at the Mostly Mozart Festival, recordings of the complete Brandenburg Concertos and Monteverdi’s Orfeo with Apollo’s Fire, chamber music at the Prague Festival and the Boston Early Music Festival. She has made more than fifty recordings on such labels as Sony Classical, BMG/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and Electra, as well as numerous broadcasts for NPR, CBC and WDR.

Grand Harmonie at Memorial church (Sarah Paysnick photo)
Grand Harmonie at Memorial Church (Sarah Paysnick photo)

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