A lot of 14-year-olds pick up an instrument to emulate their idols. It's just not often they choose the harpsichord.

But that's what George Shangrow did, and decades later, he's the director and founder of Orchestra Seattle and the director of the Seattle Conservatory of Music. This weekend he's performing on the piano and harpsichord as one of four musicians in the Black Hawk Chamber Music Festival.

The "Mostly Mozart Festival" celebrates the 250th birthday of the composer with two concerts each at Moline's First Congregational Church (on July 28 and 30) and Iowa City's Congregational Church (July 29 and 31).

The first concert focuses on the "defining forces in Mozart's music and the people who influenced him," festival organizer Jeffrey Cohan said. Most significantly, this includes composers Johann Sebastian Bach and his sons Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach. "The second [concert] is more about Mozart as a virtuoso. This very strong element of classical music was really just developing at this time with people like Paganini, who were just a little bit later," he said.

Cohan now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, but was born in Davenport and was an artist-in-residence at Augustana College. He started the Black Hawk Chamber Music Festival in 2000.

The concerts feature Cohan on flute, University of Iowa Associate Professor Christine Rutledge on viola, Oleg Timofeyev on the Russian seven-string guitar, and Shangrow on the harpsichord and piano.

The quartet will perform half of the concerts on period instruments.

"It gives us the sound of the music the way it was heard at the time, or at least what we think they heard at the time," Shangrow said. "Earlier music, for instance the music of Bach, would not have been composed for the piano. Playing Bach on the piano still works, but if you play Bach on the harpsichord, it actually sounds like Bach would have heard."

Compared to modern instruments, which are designed to project more sound, the period instruments blend together better. "The modern instruments have a more strident, brilliant sound which in its own way is certainly wonderful, but the old instruments have a softer, rounder, richer, in a way fuller ... sound," Cohan said.

This is due to physical differences between the instruments. The neck of Rutledge's "baroque" viola is more parallel to the body of the instrument - which creates less tension on the strings - and the fingerboard is much shorter than a modern viola. " The pitch range in the era was smaller; therefore the fingerboard didn't need to be so long to accommodate the playing of higher notes," Rutledge said.

She will also use a "Mozart" bow, which was the design used at the time the music was composed. "Its predecessor, the baroque bow, is shorter, and the curve of the stick is not inverted like a modern bow," she said. "Since [the 'Mozart' bow] is more inverted, the tension on the bow hair is greater and allows the performer to make shorter, sharper attacks, which composers during the time were asking performers to do." This design is the predecessor of today's "Tourte" model, which is even longer and more inverted.

The difference between Cohan's classical-period flute and a modern flute is even more noticeable. "My fingers are right on the holes of the instrument as opposed to all the keys being in between," he said. And with Timofeyev's seven-string guitar, which originated at the same time in Russia, the instrument's sound is brighter than the typical classical-period guitar because it's tuned to a G-major chord.

As in other years, the festival's program includes unpublished music and several rarely played pieces.

"We'll be playing a duo by Ignaz Pleyel that I found in the Library of Congress," Cohan said. "I don't think anybody knows about it in part because the title page wrongly says that it's for flute and bass, but it really is definitely for flute and viola."

They will play two other pieces from copies of manuscript scores from around Mozart's time.

Although the combination of flute, viola, guitar, and harpsichord/piano may seem unusual, the instrumentation is typical for that time period, Rutledge said.

"During the composers' lifetimes, these combinations were not that obscure," she said. "German composers used the viola a lot. The guitar was very popular in Schubert's time in Vienna, and we find many chamber-music combinations which use it."

The combination is particularly appealing for the violist because the parts are equal to the flute, and therefore very challenging, Rutledge said.

And even though this music is more than 200 years old, Rutledge said musicians continue to bring new approaches to the material.

"Every musician worth their salt performs works by Mozart," she said. "His music has stood the test of time and is truly perfect art. Even so many years later, musicians can still discover many new and interesting aspects of the works and have original interpretations."

 

Festival Details

  • Moline: First Congregational Church, 2201 Seventh Avenue.
  • Iowa City: Congregational Church at 30 North Clinton Street
  • Concert admission: $20 per concert for adults; ages 18 and under are admitted free.
  • Mozart I: Wunderkind: Friday, July 28, in Moline and Saturday, July 29, in Iowa City at 8 p.m.
  • Mozart II: The Virtuoso: Sunday, July 30, in Moline at 3 p.m. and Monday, July 31, at 8 p.m. in Iowa City.
 

 

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