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The power of Mozart

By Charlene Baldridge

‘Prodigy’ the focus of this year’s festival

Want to discover more about Mozart’s music and genius?

Genius doesn’t grow on trees. Neither does prodigy.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most prolific and profoundly influential composers who ever lived — he would have had his 260th birthday in January — was both genius and prodigy. By the age of 5, he was playing keyboard and violin like a master and performing before the crowned heads of Europe, thanks to his father, a promoter par excellence.

The talents of Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, were also prodigious and like Wolfgang, she composed as well. She traveled with her father and brother for a time, but it was unseemly for a girl to perform in public when she showed signs of becoming a woman, so Nannerl was retired very early. That was lucky for us, because Wolfgang wrote frequently to her from the road, and those letters were preserved.

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Prodigy Ethan Bortnick, age 15, will perform June 17. (Courtesy Mainly Mozart Festival)

In his second year as music director of San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Festival (June 2-18, subtitled “An Exploration of Prodigy”), Michael Francis explores the prodigy of Mozart by assaying his early works in the Festival Orchestra Series. It’s the first year of a six-year exploration.

This year, the festival presents Mozart’s early opera “Bastien und Bastien” (June 4), written when he was 12 and Sylvia Milo’s “The Other Mozart,” a one-woman play about Nannerl (June 12).

“Prodigy is that thing you can’t just do through hard work,” Francis said. “It is that divine spark, that extra gift that was just born.”

As further exploration of prodigy, Francis and executive producer/co-founder Nancy Laturno Bojanic present living examples with the Festival Orchestra: Umi Garrett, now 15, plays Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (June 4), and 12-year-old Gavin George plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (June 18).

In addition, singer, songwriter, and showman Ethan Bortnick, now 15, presents his PBS-TV show, “The Power of Music,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 17 at the Balboa Theatre.

Raised in a non-musical family, Bortnick insisted at the tender age of 3 that he be given piano lessons. When his parents hesitated, he got out his toy piano and played classical and pop tunes he’d heard on the radio. They relented and the rest is history.

The Festival Orchestra Series includes performances by violinist William Preucil and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott (June 8), pianist Adam Neiman (June 11), and violinist James Ehnes (June 15). The repertoire is mainly Mozart but works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Schubert and Saint-Saens are also programmed.

Festival Orchestra Series concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. and are preceded at 6:30 by informative, free-to-ticketholders “Overture” mini-concerts and/or lectures. At 10:30 a.m. on concert days June 4, 8, 15 and 18, and at 7 p.m. Friday, June 10, the public may also attend a free, open rehearsal at the Balboa Theatre.

The festival’s Maestro, Michael Francis. (Courtesy Mainly Mozart Festival)

The festival’s Maestro, Michael Francis. (Courtesy Mainly Mozart Festival)

Another freebie

At 3:30 p.m., on Sunday, June 13, at Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the Mainly Mozart Festival presents a free concert; San Diego Makes Music, with Maestro Michael Francis conducting the Festival Orchestra and amateur musicians. Want to play along? Visit the Mainly Mozart website (mainlymozart.org), download the sheet music, grab your instrument and come to the concert.

Additionally, Mainly Mozart offers three Festival Chamber Players concerts: first a concert by the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra; and The Other Mozart, both at the Historic Balboa Theatre; and Mozart & the Mind: An Exploration of Prodigy, with lectures and music centered around the music-brain conversation and how music plays a role in early development, hosted by the Westgate Hotel.

The festival runs through June 18. The five venues hosting the music include: EvoNexus Incubator, 101 W. Broadway, Downtown; Historic Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., Downtown; Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park; St. Paul’s Cathedral, 2728 Sixth Ave., Bankers Hill; and the Westgate Hotel, 1055 Second Ave., Downtown. To review the festival brochure, visit tinyurl.com/jag3z2v.

This newly configured, Downtown-concentrated Mainly Mozart Festival offers a lot in only 16 days time. To avail yourself of part or all of it, visit mainlymozart.org or phone 619-239-0100 for details.

— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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