Next weekend, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra plays one of Mozart’s least-known gems. Along with Gustav Mahler’s 4th Symphony, the orchestra will play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 314.
Mozart composed the work in 1777. And although the piece was written for a specific well-renowned oboist and was well received, the concerto apparently was changed into a flute concerto, for a commission, by its author. The work resurfaced in 1920.
“It’s just pure opera for the oboe,” said Andrea Banke, the featured oboist and Wichita Symphony Orchestra principal oboist. “The slow movement, in particular, is a lush, mature aria for the oboe. This concerto is a concerto of great joy.”
Because the oboe is such a difficult instrument, the work is not as commonly performed as many of Mozart’s other pieces.
Daniel Hege, the symphony’s music director and conductor, who played the oboe throughout high school and college, understands the complexities of the instrument. He knew that in order to perform this treasured masterpiece, he must have a world-class oboist, he said. Although this task could have been daunting for some conductors, the decision for Hege was simple. He already had such an oboist in his symphony.
“She is a truly outstanding, gifted musician,” Hege said of Banke. “She rightly deserves a place in front of the orchestra where she is a protagonist for this work.”
Banke has played worldwide, including performances with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and most recently the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She also has performed with such luminaries as soprano Renee Fleming, pianist Emanuel Ax and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Each summer, she teaches and performs in the Czech Republic.
“It’s a thrill for me to perform this piece. The concerto boasts some of the most operatic and beautiful writing in any oboe work,” said Banke, who also is a professor of oboe at Wichita State University. “The final rondo has a spinning dance theme with trills, punctuated with episodes of more lyrical playing.”
Banke, who has performed this work many times with a variety of orchestras, has written three of her own cadenzas for the concerto. Each time she performs, she writes new ones.
“It’s one or two minutes of improvisatorial fireworks on the oboe,” Banke said.
Along with Mozart’s great work, the symphony will play another stellar work by an exemplary composer.
“Gustav Mahler’s 4th Symphony is a wonderful, natural pairing with Mozart’s oboe concerto,” Hege said. “Mahler’s 4th Symphony is considered by many to be his most ‘Mozartian’ symphony.”
This symphony, which is under an hour, requires vocals during the work’s conclusion.
Soprano Janet Brown is flying in from New York to sing.
“She is a superb soprano and is ideal for singing this part,” Hege said.
The song that Brown will sing appears in the fourth movement. It shows a child’s view of heaven that is naive and beautiful. The work, around which Mahler built the symphony, describes what heaven will be like.
“The 4th Symphony is lush, melodic and charming, and has a more pastoral nature, much more like Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony,” Hege said. “It is tuneful, rich with gorgeous, sonic colors and is highly emotionally charged.”
The piece opens with sleigh bells and flutes and is jovial and frolicsome. The second movement is a dance that features a solo violin, played by the symphony’s concertmaster John Harrison, who represents a skeleton playing the fiddle in a type of dance macabre.
“This movement is a spectacular use of Mahler’s imagination to integrate macabre aspects as a contrast to the sublime, innocent aspects of the work, which serve to highlight the pastoral, optimistic sense of the symphony,” Hege said. “The third movement is a slow, singing movement, which in many ways is the emotional heart of the work, simply divine in conception.”
Both of the composers’ works provide joyous tones. For this piece, Mahler left out the tubas and trombones. French horns and woodwinds are uniquely positioned.
“This imaginative use of the orchestra with Mahler’s 4th Symphony is stunningly remarkable,” Hege said. “After this concert, we hope the audience members will be walking a few feet off the ground.”