Journeys to Genius ‘Mozart: Touched by the Gods’
Leif Bjaland, artistic director and conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra, can now add some new titles to his name: writer and narrator. And, with “Mozart: Touched by the Gods,” the orchestra’s newest multi-media performance, we might start wondering if Bjaland’s trying to emulate the man with whom he shares his initials, because it was Leonard Bernstein who, in the last century, initiated the most successful multi-media dialogues in music.
For the special Oct. 10 concert in the Sarasota Opera House, Bjaland pulled out all the stops, using two screens, lots of poignant, amusing and clever Power Point pictures and, best of all, a real sense of 21st-century style, old-fashioned music drama to introduce us to the “real” story of Mozart’s genius.
Seamlessly weaving commentary into and over live music, he brought a sense of timeless history to Mozart’s life that made this intermission-less event fly by; the performance was crammed with facts, funnies and fast-paced photos of everything Mozart, from operas and overtures to chamber music and symphonies.
Videographer Clyde Scott and his assistant, Justin Trieger, added their expertise, but the real stars of the evening were Bjaland and the orchestra, who took us through much of Mozart’s short life, dispelling myths such as the composer’s death by poison and burial in a pauper’s grave to some legends about his family and youth. There was even a wonderful reference to Mozart’s fanfare-like openings, which were likened to the 20th Century Fox sonic signature — complete with visual and sound effects — followed by an example of a Mozart symphonic fanfare, with a slide reading: “Eighteenth Century Fox.” Wonderful!
Finally, the narrative and videos led us to the evening’s raison d’etre: Mozart’s “Jupiter” (his 41st and final symphony). We’d heard excerpts all along the way. Now, we were treated to a complete performance and, by this time, it was an old family friend, welcomed and understood without words.
The video cameras stayed on, showing us the inner voices of the orchestra and leading us into another intimate, innovate and inspiring evening with the musicians.