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Mozart, mit Schlag

As Austria fetes the maestro's 250th, devotees can get their fill -- right down to the cafe concoction.

January 22, 2006|Alissa J. Rubin and Elisabeth Penz | Special to The Times

Vienna — THERE'S no escaping Mozart here this year.

Austria's celebration of its native son's 250th birthday is an artistic and commercial extravaganza calculated to flood the country with tourists and to awe audiences with myriad performances, seminars and tours.

There are two ways to experience the Mozart year -- through mass marketing, including kilos of kitsch, and through an enormous array of musical events and other Mozart-related activities, many of them designed by independent artists and musicians.

Celebrated conductors Riccardo Muti and Nikolaus Harnoncourt will be leading orchestras performing Mozart works. From Southern California, stage director and impresario Peter Sellars will produce the works of new composers inspired by Mozart, and Texan Robert Wilson, known for his innovative interpretations of classic plays and operas, has overseen the refurbishment of the composer's birthplace in Salzburg, Austria. Renowned singers will trill Mozart arias, and numerous other creative individuals will have a chance to display their visions.

"You don't just sit down and say, 'Wonderful Mozart, genius musician, greatest of all times,' " says Peter Marboe, artistic director of the Mozartjahr in Vienna, one of the organizations coordinating the year's Mozart activities.

"We asked ourselves, 'What does one mean by a "Mozart year"?' You start to think about your life. We asked, 'What does it mean for this city, Vienna, that this genius lived and worked here for 10 years? What has it meant for the past 250 years? What does he mean for young composers? For children?' And then you try to give some artistic answers throughout the year."

Marboe, an unabashed advocate of using the Mozart anniversary to spur new ways to think about the composer, has put together an astonishing array of programs. Working with about $36 million from the Vienna city government -- of which $12 million has been allocated for Sellars' productions -- Marboe's organization commissioned 40 new works by contemporary composers as well as the renovation of Mozart's home on Vienna's Domgasse, half a block from the soaring St. Stephen's Cathedral, where Mozart was married. The Mozartjahr organization has arranged for concerts of Mozart's religious music in the three Vienna churches to which Mozart had a personal connection and has provided funds for yearlong Mozart programs in the public schools.

Prisoners, the handicapped, the elderly and the homeless will also be feted with Mozart music through programs run by the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, Vienna's homeless shelters, the state institution for the blind and several prisons.

Salzburg, where Mozart was born on Jan. 27, 1756, will offer a huge selection of music, exhibits and lectures. In addition to the annual summer Salzburg Festival, it is showcasing all 22 of Mozart's operas, including a number of rarely performed minor one-acts.

On the narrow Getreidegasse, in the house where Mozart was born, the International Mozarteum Foundation commissioned Wilson to reimagine the conventional exhibit in place. Wilson has added his signature lighting as well as paintings and music and has moved some of the exhibit's standbys, such as period instruments, into new positions -- tucked into nooks and peeking out of wall recesses.

Paris, London and Milan, Italy, where Mozart performed and studied other composers' works, will provide their own musical Mozart feasts, but Austria has by far the most offerings.

The sheer volume of events -- along with the omnipresence of products bearing Mozart's image -- may so overwhelm casual visitors that they long to hear the music of almost any other composer or simply wander quietly through picturesque villages. Indeed, it will be hard to walk 10 feet in either Salzburg or Vienna without confronting Mozart's white wig, red waistcoat and outsized violin on umbrellas, candy and a host of other products.

With little effort, the visitor to Vienna this year can rise in the morning to Mozart music on the radio; shower and dry himself with towels emblazoned with Mozart's visage; eat Mozart wurst (shaped like a violin) for breakfast; take a tour of Mozart's house on the Domgasse; listen to a reading of the letters he and his father, Leopold, wrote to each other; and write home about it on Mozart monogrammed writing paper.

Peter Vujica, the music critic for one of Austria's leading newspapers, Der Standard, throws up his hands in exasperation at the spectacle.

"Mozart is well known. Why do we need this enormous expenditure of money and effort? Yes, there will be some remarkable productions, but there always are in Vienna. There is no new work of Mozart, there is no new mode of Mozart. It is not as if he needs to be rediscovered," Vujica says.

"The whole country is standing on its head because of this Mozart year."


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