The Vivaldi Virtuosi chamber orchestra attracts fans who attend the group's Vivaldi by Candlelight concert each December, benefiting the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. With former Utah Symphony associate concertmaster Gerald Elias at the helm, that tony affair has become known for fine performances of rarely heard gems played in the softly lit cathedral of Salt Lake City's First Presbyterian Church.
Now the eponymous virtuosi of the group Utah Symphony musicians and other top professional players of Salt Lake City are branching out and celebrating several important firsts.
The Vivaldi Virtuosi will headline a concert on the University of Utah's Virtuoso Series, playing a program devoid of music by Vivaldi or any other Baroque composer. The concert, at Libby Gardner Concert Hall, centers on Mozart and his early Classical contemporaries Domenico Cimarosa and Josef Myslivecek. It's also the first time the Virtuoso Series has presented a group based in Salt Lake City.
Violist Robert Baldwin, a member of the Virtuosi, extended the invitation last year, while he helmed the series as interim chairman of the University of Utah School of Music where he's director of orchestral activities.
"Every time I play with the group, I'm just amazed at how good it is," Baldwin said. "Jerry [Elias] is highly respected as a musician, and also as someone who thinks deeply about music. He's really committed to the interpretation of what's on the page and helps us as musicians to think about those things and apply that to the repertoire we are playing."
Elias used those traits in preparing for the program, which pairs Mozart chamber works with forgotten pieces by composers whose popularity outshone Mozart's during his lifetime. He discovered the individual parts for Cimarosa's Overture to "L'impresario in Angustie" and Myslivecek's Sinfonia in D in a digital library of music scores. Next, he compiled the hand-written parts to create a conductor's score, correcting numerous mistakes made by an 18th-century score copyist in the process.
"I'm guessing the copyist got really tired, or it was very dark, or he got very drunk as he went from one part to the next," said Elias, evoking a scene reminiscent of the mystery novels he writes when not performing music. "I felt very sympathetic for that poor guy in some cold attic room, copying all these parts out."
The musical progression from Baroque to the early Classical isn't a large one, Elias said. Obvious differences are that the harpsichord continuo is no longer present, and the string orchestra also includes oboes and horns.
Elias keeps the Virtuosi forces on the small side 18 players, the size of a typical chamber orchestra in Mozart's day. "There has to be a real sense of clarity, elegance and charm to the music, as well as it being very energetic," he said. "It's almost like every musician is a soloist. Plus, we can hear each other very well."
As in Vivaldi Virtuosi's other concerts, Elias won't be conducting from the concertmaster's chair as was common in the time period. Instead, the concertmaster is Utah Symphony violinist David Porter. "I'm standing there waving a stick," Elias said.
Also in the violin section will be a newcomer to Vivaldi Virtuosi, Kathryn Eberle, who succeeded Elias as Utah Symphony associate concertmaster. "It's really special for me to get to collaborate in such a meaningful way with my predecessor in the symphony," Eberle said.
Elias said works in the program's first half bridge the gap between Baroque music and mature Classicism, while Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in A Major, which ends the concert, reveals what a true genius could do with the elements of the new style.
The composer imbued the piece with a sense of melodic characterization and dramatic arc. "Mozart considered himself an opera composer first of all," Elias said. "It dawned on him at a very early age that the orchestra could play in a dramatic, vocal, operatic style."
Elias has a flair for drama of his own, and past Vivaldi Virtuosi concerts have had their share of unexpected events. He hinted that surprises are in store at this concert. Not one to give away a story's conclusion before its time, though, the mystery writer and musician refused to say more.
Vivaldi Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra
A concert featuring music by Mozart and his contemporaries, conducted by Gerald Elias.
When • Sunday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1365 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $25; $5 for students, at 801-581-7100 or http://www.music.utah.edu