Southern Tier Symphony Celebrates Musical Genius

by Ed. Simone


Music Director Ben Grow's back on the podium of the Southern Tier Symphony after

COVID kept him from leading the last concert. It's a wonderful return. An Eighteenth-Centurya-

thon featuring pieces by Mozart, Haydn and Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.


The program opens with Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, a 1787 piece that's probably

one of the most played bits of music ever. It's perennially delightful.


But it's the Andante movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, with

Laura Peterson as soloist, that pushes us closer to the composer's heart. When I was a lad this

piece was known as the "Elvira Madigan" concerto, because it was featured in a Swedish film of

that name in the late 60's. The film has long since slipped into the celluloid mists; but the piece

remains an engaging example of Mozart's ability to tap into emotion in the most direct way and

the movement is often played as a stand-alone work.


Against the insistent pulsing of the strings and winds, Peterson turns the simple, wistful

melody into a determined stride; a journey to---? Well, Mozart never tells us where; but

Peterson's playing makes us feel it must be somewhere better. It's a gem of a piece, and

it made me wish for the framing movements.


What follows, however, is another sterling performance: two movements from Mozart's

Oboe Concerto, also in C major. The warmth of Paul Schlossman's solo oboe rises above the

delicate string figures and the hunter's calls from Molly Sacheli-Weissman and John Georger's

French horns. Grow keeps things tunesome and reveals a strength that punches through the

Mozartian ornamentation.


Joseph Bologne, the son of an enslaved black woman and a white planter, came to France

as a child from Guadeloupe. He has been called the Black Mozart; but some contemporary

research asserts that Mozart should be labelled the White Bologne. When Mozart first came to

Paris, Bologne, older by eleven years, had already been named a chevalier by King Louis, and

was an extremely popular and prolific composer and conductor, a music teacher to Marie

Antoinette, and a favorite at court. Mozart was indeed treading on Bologne's turf, and the racism

of the time didn't help Bologne's fate in the face of such competition. (Bologne's life is

fascinating and rich with amazing exploits, including leading the first all-black republican

regiment in the French Revolution! A long-awaited biopic about him is set to premiere in April.)


Bologne's first symphony, in G major, premiered in 1779. The STS handled the

Chevalier's elegant, layered string writing with charm. The sweet melody introduced in the very

first bars of the opening movement is vexed by some sturm und drang in the lower strings and

horns; but comes out on top. A graceful middle movement gives way to a rollicking danse de la

pays finale. It was a pleasure to hear music so rarely played yet so deserving of attention.


Joseph Haydn, eldest of the three composers on the program and the composer of over a

hundred symphonies, gets the last word. The sheer breadth and development of Haydn's work

is astonishing. It's a musical education (and a joy) to listen to an early Haydn symphony like the

No.6, Le Matin, and then to a late work like the No.100, The Military. And throughout his long

career he and his music remained very much in-demand. (Haydn's Paris Symphonies were even

commissioned by none other than the Chevalier de Saint-Georges for his Concert de la Loge



The Southern Tier Symphony wraps up their current concert program with three

movements from Haydn's 44th Symphony in E minor. The strings of the STS navigate the

careening first and fourth movements, with violins chasing violas chasing cellos and basses. It's

a thrill for sure, and an exciting close to a concert that truly celebrates musical genius, past and