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A scheduling conflict with the University of North Carolina Greensboro's Recital Hall resulted in this Sitkovetsky and Friends concert taking place in Temple Emmanuel on Jefferson Street, just east of the Guilford College campus. Sandwiched between the Greensboro Symphony's two performances of Verdi's Requiem, music director Dmitry Sitkovetsky had created a small-scale Mozart festival featuring two seldom played works.
From listening to the flow of beautiful melodies in Mozart's Quartet No. 1 in D, K.285, for flute, violin, viola, and cello, you would never guess that the composer disliked the flute as a solo instrument. A dire need for ready cash led Mozart to reluctantly accept a commission from an amateur Dutch flute player, De Jean, to compose “three, short, simple concertos and a couple of quartets for flute,” according to one of the composer’s letters quoted in John N. Burke’s Mozart and His Music.
The first movement of K.285, in effect a string quartet with the leading violin part taken by the flute, is as long as the other two flute quartets combined. The adagio serves as an introduction to the rondo finale. It is the highpoint of the piece, a ravishing melody for the flute accompanied by pizzicato strings. The finale bubbles over with sheer delight and high spirits. GSO principal flutist Debra Pivetta played with great élan. Her intonation was perfect and she brought out the fullest variety of color possible. Her accompanists were a formidable team: Dmitry Sitkovetsky on second violin, GSO violist Eric Koontz, and UNCG faculty member Brooks Whitehouse on cello.
The handwritten words"Grand Partita," on the score of Mozart's Serenade No. 10 in B-flat, K.361, may not have been made by the composer but they are an apt name for this heavenly piece. It is the pinnacle of music written for Harmoniemusik, music for the wind bands maintained by the aristocracy to provide classy background music for dinners and parties. Mozart was inspired by the virtuosity he encountered in the famous court orchestra in Mannheim. His use of pairs of basset horns, sometimes called alto clarinets, comes from his introduction to their expressive potential by the Mannheim principal clarinetist Anton Stadler. Mozart's use of basset horns is often associated with Masonic symbolism.
The March 23, 1784, issue of the Wienerblättchen carried an announcement of a benefit concert for "Herr Stadler, senior ... among other well chosen pieces, a great wind piece of a very special kind by Herr Mozart." This advertised K.361's premiere, and it later received many performances by the Emperor Joseph II's court orchestra. Johann Freidrich Schink's Litterarische Fragmente (1785) contains a review of a chamber music concert led by Anton Stadler that featured the Serenade. "I heard music for wind instruments today, too, by Herr Mozart… glorious and sublime! It consisted of thirteen instruments …and at each instrument sat a master, Oh, what an effect it made — glorious and grand, excellent and sublime!" (The quotes are from the fine unsigned notes to Sony SMK-46248 Marlboro Music Festival performance of K.361 conducted by Marcel Moyse).
Those words by an 18th-century music lover are an apt summation of the performance led by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Before the performance, he said that the Serenade No. 10 was one of his favorite works and that he had long wanted to participate in a performance. Since he did not play a wind instrument or double bass, he could only conduct. He said that he hoped not to get in the way of his friends' music making. He asked principal clarinetist Kelly Burke to give background about the basset horns, instruments that he had never conducted before. She explained that the rarity of both players and instruments made concerts featuring K.361 rare. There were two players for this concert; Roger Garrett came from Des Moines, Iowa, Shawn Copeland is a member of the UNCG music faculty. All the other musicians are principals and members of the Greensboro Symphony: oboists Ashley Barrett and Anna Lampidis, clarinetists Burke and Ed Riley, bassoonists Carol Bernstorf and Ann Shoemaker, horn players Bob Campbell, Lynn Beck, Tim Papenbrock, and David Doyle, and double bassist John Spuller. The joy of music making was evident in every one of the work's seven movements. The give-and-take between different pairings of instruments was delightful. The deep and dark color of the basset horns was unique. It was quite different, as Burke said, from the sound of four clarinets. This entrancing performance was rewarded with hearty and prolonged applause and was a highlight of the season offerings.