S ometimes composers save the best for last.
That’s the guiding principle behind the Winter-Mezzo concert series, which focuses on the final major works of music legends such as Franz Schubert and Anton Bruckner.
“It’s a really eclectic group of pieces,” said Curtis Pendleton, executive director of Festival Mozaic. And it’s just a taste of things to come, she added.
The festival, which officially kicks off its 40th anniversary this weekend, culminates this summer with a highly anticipated slate of concerts, lectures, guest appearances and get-togethers. First, however, there’s Winter-Mezzo.
According to Pendleton, the low-key concert series, now in its fifth year, provides an intimate introduction to chamber music.
“It’s the difference between a stadium rock concert and hearing your favorite band in a 400-seat theater,” she explained. “It’s a really great dinner party with really interesting pieces.”
Audiences can sample works by all three composers Friday at a one-hour introductory concert, mingle with musicians at an intimate dinner on Saturday, or get the full experience at Sunday’s closing concert.
“We’ve really taken the time to connect with the audience on a one-on-one basis,” Music Director Scott Yoo said.
The theme of this season’s WinterMezzo series is “firsts and lasts.”
Whereas a trio of November concerts centered on famous composers’ first efforts, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano and Violin Sonata in C” or Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in E-flat,” this weekend focuses on their final major works.
On the program are Bruckner’s “Adagio from the String Quintet in F,” Schubert’s “String Quintet in C” and John Harbison’s “Snow Country for Oboe and String Quartet.”(Harbison, for the record, is quite active at age 71.)
According to Yoo, “the biggest piece on the program” is undoubtedly Schubert’s “String Quintet.”
“Most people consider this the most important piece ever written for chamber music, which is saying a lot,” he said, praising the work’s lush, beautiful melodies and monumental scope.
“Schubert took regular forms of music and made them larger than life,” explained Yoo, who is entering his sixth season as festival music director. “Instead of looking at a hill, you’re looking at
Mount Everest. Instead of looking at a valley, you’re looking at the Grand Canyon.
“In some ways,” he added, “(‘String Quintet in C’) is the Grand Canyon of chamber music.”
The string quintet’s significance is aided by the fact that Schubert composed it in the summer of 1828, just two months before his death at age 31.
Like his fellow Austrian, Anton Bruckner sought to transform simple musical forms into monumental works, Yoo said. He wrote only one work of chamber music, “String Quintet in F,” completed in 1879.
“His music was considered kind of strange and wild,” Yoo said of Bruckner, who died in 1896. “When I think about ‘the three Bs,’ I sometimes omit Bach or Beethoven or Brahms and substitute Bruckner instead.”
According to Yoo, Schubert’s “String Quartet” and Bruckner’s “Adagio” reflect both the “neatness and compactness of classicism and the broader, more expansive expressionism,” straddling the line between classic and romantic. (The two composers even shared a teacher, Simon Sechter, albeit at different points in history.)
Harbison's “Snow Country,” composed a century later in 1979, echoes that duality with tonal tensions between B minor and C minor.
“Harbison embodied, for me, what this concert is about, this sense of ambiguity,” Yoo said. “There’s a certain fun ease about the piece.”
In addition to a celebration of chamber music, WinterMezzo is also a homecoming for visiting Festival Mozaic artists.
Yoo, who heads the seven- piece chamber ensemble as a violinist, lives in New York City. Oboe player Anne-Marie Gabriele belongs to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and cellist Andrew Smith is an associate music professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The only local performer is violist Paul Severtson, co-concertmaster of the San Luis Obispo Symphony.
“(Festival Mozaic) brings the artists back into the community,” said Pendleton, noting that visiting musicians stay in local homes. “It makes people feel closer to the art form and maybe a little less intimated by it.”