Lillian Kallir, the piano soloist of today's concert, stands within the huge, arched doorway of the old Buena Vista Winery, near the caves where the characters of 20-year-old sherries improve among the cobwebs. She is a world-class performer who has played with Von Karajan and Giulini, but today she has forsaken her usual formal gown for a flowered shift and a tote that reads "Midsummer Mozart." She chats with San Jose Symphony maestro George Cleve, calm and serious in his dark suit, and with the somewhat grave young violinist and concertmaster, Daniel Kobialka, who looks quite up to carrying the melody line of the divertimento. Kallir is animated and cheerful as she waits to play the C-major piano concerto. A blond-bearded man with a white-haired boy in his arms asks Cleve if the boy might hold his baton. Cleve extends the stick, but the boy, turned inside-out with embarrassment, embeds his face in his father's shoulder. An older, braver boy in starched shorts and suspenders asks, "Are you the conductor?" Then he extends his arm, shakes Cleve's hand and quickly hops away, triumphant and anxious to tell his mom.
It is a Sunday afternoon, and music lovers of all stripes are strolling up the tree-lined path of State Historical Landmark No. 392, just a few blocks from General Vallejo's old Sonoma town square and close by the benign, rolling Mayacamas foothills. Buena Vista is the oldest premium winery in California. Built 128 years ago by self-proclaimed "Count" Agoston Haraszthy, its history makes it an appropriate host for the opening concert of the sixth annual Midsummer Mozart series, under the direction, appropriately, of the Viennese-born Cleve. In half an hour, impassioned melodies written 200 years ago will bring goose bumps to the gathered crowd. Helium-filled balloons, bobbing around the fountain, are attached to lively kids--the only folks in the crowd who might not be transported by the fourth (adagio) movement of the Divertimento No. 15 in B-flat. A few persons still mill around the wine- and cheese-sampling tables, taking in the "clean, rose-petal finish" of today's featured Buena Vista wine.
Among the giant eucalyptuses and bays, at picnic tables above the old limestone winery and in the courtyard-cum-amphitheater formed by the winery and the recently restored 1862 press house, young families, old couples and groups of good friends pack the wrappers and paper plates from their repasts and ready themselves for the journey from the physical world of the handsome old establishment to the more spiritual plane of Mozart.
The cream-colored folding chairs begin to fill. The nattier men don their red Mozart visors. After the wine tasting, the audience isn't at a loss for words: The conversation is so robust that the blue jays have a rough time competing. People standing in the winery archway can hear, too, the laughter of the young musicians coming from a nearby room, off limits behind the barrels. The ensemble of 40 still has time to get into the extraordinary dream mood of the andante movement of the piano concerto, which a few in the audience will know as The Theme from "Elvira Madigan." Another few minutes and members of the orchestra begin to file into their seats.
Marcus Moller-Racke, the elegant and unaffected 29-year-old president of Buena Vista Winery, straightens his tie and rises to give a brief welcome to the audience and to introduce the conductor. Born in Germany into a wine-making family, Moller-Racke came to Buena Vista in 1981. In the few years since, he and his wife, Anne, and the company they work for, have put Buena Vista on the map as a producer of fine varietal wines (having won about 200 medals in the past three years), improved the buildings and environs of the old winery (they now have a new one as well, situated a few miles south at Los Carneros) and brought Mozart, Shakespeare and Dixieland to Sonoma.
The introduction over, Cleve strides out from beneath the stone archway, doing his best to make a grand entrance through the portable chairs. After a few announcements to the audience, he turns toward the podium and raises his baton.
The moment that the first bars of the Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" rise from the orchestra, all other sounds in the world are crushed. The blue jays become mute, gray squirrels make a hasty departure through the high trees and Mozart fills the courtyard at Buena Vista.