Mozart’s exquisite Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major is the headline attraction for Seattle Symphony Orchestra concerts conducted by Andrew Manze next week.
But in fact, this Masterworks program represents something of a British Invasion.
Manze, a Southeast London native and fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, has put bookends around Mozart with a pair of major English composers separated by nearly 200 years: Henry Purcell and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Purcell, a 17th-century royal-court composer and organist at Westminster Abbey, also wrote a considerable amount of music for the stage before his death at age 36. Manze, an early-music specialist who last conducted the Seattle Symphony in 2011, has selected several pieces from both sides of Purcell’s career — the official and the commercial — and will present them in his own arrangements or those of another great British composer, Benjamin Britten.
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Williams will be represented by his Symphony No. 5 in D major, which had its world premiere in 1943. Manze calls the piece’s opening “magical.”
“It took hold of me when I was a teenager and has never let me go,” Manze says via email. “Maybe some listeners will be new to Williams and perhaps will go home wondering how they could have missed out for so long. Putting great musicians and great music together is always exciting, and I am interested to hear what sounds this orchestra finds in this symphony.”
The Symphony No. 5 was the foundation for this particular concert.
“When the Seattle Symphony accepted the idea of performing this piece by Williams, it seemed natural to put something on the program by Purcell, whose music Williams loved,” says Manze. “They share a no-nonsense, English simplicity of construction. They transport us, however, to other worlds. Purcell’s music was mostly written for tiny ensembles, so it needs arranging in some way to work in a hall, such as Benaroya, with a modern orchestra.”
Asked if the juxtaposition of Purcell, Mozart and Williams on the same bill had any other special meaning, Manze says he understands audiences appreciate selections that illuminate one another.
“My priority, however, when visiting an orchestra, is to program repertoire I love,” he says. “Only then do I look for combinations which intrigue me. For example, Williams’ symphony is full of polyphony, which Purcell would recognize and, I believe, admire. He calls his finale ‘Passacaglia,’ a genre very close to that of Purcell’s ‘Chacony’ (which is included with this program). Thoughts like those probably have no material effect on what I do in concert, but they contribute to a sense of the program being more than the sum of its parts.
“Having said that, contrast is also valuable: Mozart’s concerto does not ‘fit’ the other pieces, but it serves as a breath of fresh air from another time and place.”
Guest pianist Simone Dinnerstein will perform the concerto with the orchestra. The American virtuoso drew praise for her self-financed recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in 2007.
“I have not yet met her,” says Manze. “But the more I hear her recordings, the more I am sure we are in for something special.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com