Mainly Mozart orchestra needs no conductor

Anne-Marie McDermott
San Diego Union Tribune

Of all the mysteries pondered by newcomers to classical music, one of the biggest is, “What does a conductor do?”

It’s also a question many experienced orchestra players ask.

Wednesday evening at the Balboa Theatre, the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra — several dozen musicians who have never worked with each other as a group before last week — successfully played symphonies by Mozart and Haydn without the guidance of someone jumping around on a podium waving a stick.

They started together at the same tempo. They sharply cut off held notes. Sections and soloists came in where they were supposed to. Dynamics leaped from loud to soft, and smoothly shifted back up to loud again. Their intonation was better than plenty of orchestras with a conductor.

In Mozart’s day, orchestras were usually led by the concertmaster. For Wednesday’s concert, that was William Preucil, who also was the violin soloist in Mendelssohn’s “Double Concerto for Violin and Piano in D minor.” Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott joined him at the front of the stage as the other soloist.

Preucil shone with his lyrical tone and heartfelt warbling in the Adagio; in the outer movements he spun out fiery runs. McDermott was equally brilliant, tossing off thousands of sixteenth notes, every one cleanly articulated.

Joseph Haydn was in his mid-30s, working for the Esterhazy court, when he wrote his “Symphony No. 39 in G minor.” The work opens with a dramatic minor key theme that stops suddenly twice, picking up where it left off — a musical joke that leaves listeners suspended with expectation. The first violins negotiated melodies in the first and last movements that agitatedly jump between registers like quantum particles.

The musicians gave this a dramatic and witty performance, with a genteel elegance appropriate for the “Andante.” Oboes and horns nicely sang out in the trio section of the “Minuet.”

Early attendees were rewarded with an “Overture” performance of two movements of Anton Arensky’s “String Quartet no. 2,” composed for the unusual combination of violin, viola and two cellos. They were warmly played by violinist Nathan Olson, violist Aloysia Friedmann and cellists Barry Gold and Wei Yu.
Read the rest of the review here