This past Sunday the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle (COT) presented Mozart and His Contemporaries. This performance was held in Fletcher Hall within The Carolina Theatre of Durham and was made possible, in part, from a grant from the Durham Arts Council’s Fletcher Performing Arts Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation. Each selection gave the audience a glimpse into the sound of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and two 18th century composers whose stories and music have seldom received attention over the centuries.

The event program gave a brief summary of Mozart and the other two featured composers, Marianna Martines and Antonio Casimir Cartellieri, and their connections. The information noted the composers’ family histories, musical journeys, and even touched on the issues Martines faced as a composer during a time when women were not allowed to compose for large orchestras or obtain certain positions as musicians. This background information humanized the people behind the music and helped the audience to appreciate the stories and works of the “unsung” composers.

The concert opened with Martines’ Il Primo Amore and was conducted by principal conductor and executive director Niccolo Muti, a violinist, conducting scholar, and son of artistic director Lorenzo Muti. N. Muti conducted in a relaxed manner and seemed quite comfortable with the score. The orchestra, dressed in all black, performed this mellow tune with great precision. They were complimentary of soprano Susannah Stewart, the soloist for this piece. Stewart sang effortlessly, with exceptional technique and diction, and she looked stunning in an elegant black velvet dress with her hair pulled in a low bun. 

Her physicalization seemed thrown off by the iPad she held with both hands slightly below eye level, reading the lyrics as she sang. Stewart managed to show emotion through facial expression and periodically made eye contact with members of the audience, but without memorizing the music or having a stand to hold the iPad, her bodily expressions were limited. 

Next, L. Muti conducted Cartellieri’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor with an intense style that mimicked the energy of the piece. Il Primo Amore consisted of mostly stringed instruments. However, Cartellieri utilized more wind instruments giving the piece an aurally balanced resonance. A few spectators clapped directly after the second movement. The conductor kindly honored them by turning around, smiling, and bowing quickly before beginning the next portion of the piece. In the third movement, Menuetto, the orchestra executed the dynamics phenomenally, amplifying the intensity of this orchestral work. 

For the third and final piece, conductor N. Muti returned to the stage with instrumental soloists Hye-Jin Kim (violin) and Ara Gregorian (viola). Kim entered the stage in a sage dress with gold stilettos that markedly complimented the gold trim of the venue’s walls. Kim played with great poise, skill, and emotion, and the music could be seen and felt in her bodily movements. Gregorian interacted with the crowd through eye contact, and his facial expressions commanded attention when it was his time to play. In the second movement, romance filled the atmosphere, and the orchestra accompanied the soloists with pleasing symmetry. The third movement closed the show out with a lighthearted mood to which the audience responded with a standing ovation.

At two separate times, L. Muti and COT’s president David Lindquist took the time to inform viewers of how appreciative they were for the turnout and encouraged them to return for future concerts. During the intermission and after the show, several people were overheard commenting on the size of the audience and how packed the venue was. Audience members seemed to be delighted with the magnitude of the music hall, access to concessions, and the overall flow of performances. The readily available attendants offered assistance and direction, which made the experience all the more enjoyable.

It was a lovely night all around as the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle paid homage to one of the greatest classical composers, Mozart, and highlighted the lives and talents of two of his colleagues with respect and dignity.