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The Mozart mystique


Saturday night at the Buffalo Philharmonic's all-Mozart concert, I saw something you do not see every day at Kleinhans Music Hall.


There were a lot of young people there. Not only a few big, excited-looking school groups -- kids heading for their seats with instruments in tow -- but also listeners in their 20s. There was one couple a few rows down from me I couldn't help noticing. They looked to be on a date, and the woman was wearing a black cocktail dress that showed all these tattoos. It made me smile. Other people I have talked to since the concert have also mentioned seeing a bigger proportion than usual of the younger set there. That is something to think about.

I have been wondering what it was about this concert that attracted this crowd. Unless the BPO was running some special I don't know about, it has to have been Mozart. Because I remember a similar situation a few years ago when the BPO did Mozart's Requiem. Like this weekend's concert, it was a big, uncompromising program. The dark, frightening Requiem presented an especially heavy challenge for the listener. But the kids turned out.

There must be a kind of brand recognition at work. Even if you know nothing about music, you have heard the name Mozart. People might not be able to hum you a particular melody and say "That's Mozart," but they know they have run into his music at one time or another, and they liked it. Maybe they saw "Amadeus." I have a million quibbles with that movie, but it did give you a big dose of his music, and maybe they remember it from that.

Haring Every generation's artists love Mozart. In the '80s, Keith Haring did a portrait of him (left). Maurice Sendak worked him into his children's books. Up above is a cartoon an artist named J.R. Dunster drew of Mozart a couple of years ago that I found on the Internet. You could find a hundred other examples.

Here is another thing. Because Mozart has infiltrated popular culture, people also do not feel intimidated by him. They approach his music without fear. I imagine there might be a bigger intimidation factor working against Beethoven or Bach or Brahms, who newbies might worry would be too heavy, too German, too something. But everyone sees Mozart as a human being. We see him as one of us.

And if you're in your teens or your 20s -- I loved Mozart already when I was that age -- you might also have it subconsciously filed away that Mozart died when he was not quite 36. You are listening to the music of a young man. I remember thinking about that when I was a kid.

Whatever the reason, Mozart's youth following is good news, because it is not as if we are talking about someone substandard, someone who is not the real thing. The kids who enjoy Mozart can congratulate themselves on their good taste. When you are hearing Mozart, you are hearing the best.

Note to the BPO: Give the people what they want!

As long as it's Mozart, what can it hurt?

-- Mary Kunz Goldman




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