- PHOTO BY BRIAN P. LAWLER
It’s not terribly often that classical musicians take audience requests—perhaps simply because classical musicians don’t play in bars. But Festival Mozaic, the local 10-day Mozart-and-more extravaganza, seeks to correct this. With its Notable Encounters series, the annual festival invites audiences to break out of the security of the traditional concert format and into a more intimate gathering place where interruptions are permitted, questions are welcome, and the event unfolds in an experimental, organic fashion.
“What we found was that the community was very enthusiastic about music, but maybe wasn’t prepared adequately to fully enjoy what they were hearing,” explained Music Director Scott Yoo.
The series was designed, he said, to allow the musicians to explain to the audience what they were hearing.
Part of an event spanning 10 days and most of San Luis Obispo County, the subjects of these encounters with accomplished artists often take shape unexpectedly.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF FESTIVAL MOZAIC
“It does get off-topic,” Yoo conceded. “That’s OK. Otherwise you could listen to a record, which never gets off topic. It’s the same every time. The beauty of the live performance is that you just don’t know. That’s why people go to baseball games. Baseball games aren’t inherently beautiful; it’s the uncertainty of not knowing who’s going to win.”
The series is just one facet of a massive event that includes chamber concerts, elegant evening performances in various Central Coast settings, and a Fringe Series, in which classically trained musicians venture off into jazz, tango, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll—even heavy metal.
Named after Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, the series veers sharply away from classical traditions, perhaps most with the Fringe event “Classical Musicians Doing Decidedly Un-Classical Things.” That evening features sultry Latin sounds, John Novacek’s original “Intoxication Rag,” an arrangement of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You,” and one particularly out-there piece called “Little Crissietina’s Fantasy,” by Matthew Hindson.
“It’s a strange name and strange piece of music,” Yoo remarked. “When I first heard it, I walked in in the middle, and I thought, ‘What is this? This sounds like two electric guitars, but I know it’s violins. And it’s so outrageously difficult.’ I thought that if you’re doing a festival that centers around pop culture, this should be included.”
- PHOTO COURTESY OF FESTIVAL MOZAIC
Pianist and composer Novacek became interested in music through film scores, and recalls first trying to pick out “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago on the piano at age 7. But it was the Scott Joplin rag “The Entertainer” from the 1973 film The Sting that provoked a real love of music: “Hearing that played by a friend of mine made me want to learn how to push down all those black and white keys on the piano.”
Ragtime remained a Novacek staple, though classical music eventually became his passion.
“All my brothers had rock bands in our house,” he said, “so we’d often have police coming over telling us to be quiet. It was really kind of rowdy growing up in the ’70s. But once I heard classical music, I really fell in love with that. The first thing I heard was the “Peer Gynt Suite” by Grieg. That really turned me on to the classics, and while there were rock bands rehearsing in our garage, I was listening to symphonies and concerti on the stereo.”
Violinist Paul Severtson grew up around string music—his folks even had a family string quartet going at one point—and he found himself captivated by the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle in particular. Severtson will perform Edvard Grieg’s “String Quartet in G-Minor” in a Notable Encounter event, to show how Grieg took inspiration from Norway’s popular folk songs and indigenous instrument, the Hardanger fiddle, an instrument whose sound actually resembles that of a bagpipe. Even native Norwegians, Severtson said, have learned a thing or two from his performances.
That emphasis on folk origins of classical compositions is part of the festival’s theme this season, “Influences in Pop Culture.”
“I think the influences in pop culture was more a commentary on how we think of Mozart and Beethoven as being so far away and so long ago, but actually those composers routinely borrowed from their pop culture to write their music,” Yoo explained. “Beethoven would borrow German dances ... Brahms was very interested in gypsy music. Composers had no problem incorporating their contemporary pop culture into their music. Composers of today, it’s almost like there’s a gap, a chasm.”
In fact, Yoo noted, sometimes the only intersection of classical music with pop culture happens in movies.
And it’s on this particular note that the festival concludes: At a Sunday, July 24, Grand Finale concert, conductor Yoo and the inimitable violinist Caroline Campbell will perform the score of the film The Red Violin—which tells the story of a mysterious violin over the centuries.
The tale isn’t over yet.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner has a puce recorder. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.