“I just adore it.” says Roger Wiesmeyer, speaking of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491. “I’ve never played it on piano before. I’ve sat in the orchestra for performances of this concerto three or four times and every time it just completely captures my imagination, for at least the week after – I’ll have at least two weeks of living with it and thinking about it all the time. There is this incredible mood that Mozart casts with this piece.”
A few days ago Roger and I sat down after a rehearsal to talk about this piece, which we will be collaborating together to perform this week. Roger will be performing the solo piano part – the part originally played by Amadeus himself – and I am playing a reduction of the orchestra’s part on second piano for the first and third movements. The second movement – a slow Larghetto – will be performed by Roger joined by Nashville Symphony musicians Kate Ladner, flute; Jeremy Williams, violin; and Keith Nicholas, cello in a quartet arrangement by Johann Nepomunk Hummel, an Austrian composer and pianist who was a contemporary of Beethoven.
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Roger Wiesmeyer was born and raised in Nashville – he went to Hillsboro High School and studied oboe at Blair School of Music with Bobby Taylor, who was the Nashville Symphony’s principal oboist at the time. He has played piano since he was 4 and oboe since age 10, and he played oboe in the Nashville Junior Symphony and Nashville Youth Symphony (now the Curb Youth Symphony) at Blair. Roger then attended renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and went on to perform as a member of the Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Honolulu symphonies.
In 2001 he returned to Music City as the Nashville Symphony’s English Horn player (he also plays oboe on occasion) and has become one of the best known and most respected classical musicians in town – he was named Best Classical Musician 2014 by Nashville Scene. Roger is a charter member of ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, performs with Gateway Chamber Orchestra, and teaches oboe in the pre-college program at Blair School of Music.
This tireless man is also the Chair of the Nashville Symphony’s Board Committee for Education & Community Engagement, and thus it has been my privilege to work closely with him over the last year both in the development and implementation of my department’s programs, and now in this endeavor of performing a Mozart concerto.
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Roger and and I have been meeting a few times a month since the summer to prepare for these performances, which are part of the Nashville Symphony’s continuing series of free Onstage community concerts, and our new OffStage free concert series at W.O. Smith Music School. Usually this rehearsal is held at 8 am! We practice in the voicing room beneath the stage of Laura Turner Concert Hall, which is the home of the Symphony’s keyboard instruments when they are not on stage: two nine-foot Steinways and a seven-foot Steinway, the organ console, a couple of celestes, and Anna, our double-manual harpsichord.
As the performances loom we have also practiced at W.O. Smith and a few evenings ago we played on stage in Laura Turner amidst all of the set up and paraphernalia for this weekend’s Pink Martini concerts. The two grand pianos sound distinctly different at night in the hall than they do at 8 am in the cavernous voicing room below! I am really looking forward to these performances.
“It’s a very dramatic piece.” Roger said. “First of all, it’s the largest orchestra that Mozart ever wrote for. It has trumpets, clarinets, timpani in addition to pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, one flute, strings – it’s a fairly enormous orchestra for Mozart’s time. It’s the only concerto that he wrote in which the pianist plays through the entire ‘outro’ (final tutti) of both the first and third movements.” (In his other concerti the endings of these movements are played by orchestra alone.) “In this case Mozart thought – ‘No, there’s more that I need to say.
“This is the first one of Mozart’s concerti I’ve played that he wrote for himself. The first one that I played was the G Major,” (No. 17 K. 453) “which he wrote for one of his students named Babette Ployer, and she must have been pretty good! because it was pretty hard. A couple years back I did the A Major,” (No. 12, K. 414) “which he wrote to be published, so he had no idea of the quality of the player that was going to buy it – so it’s hard, but it’s not crazy, stupid hard.
“This concerto is kind of crazy, stupid hard! There are a lot of notes to wrap your fingers around.
“He would put on these self-produced concerts – basically he was a free-lancer, and he wanted work. So he wrote (the piano concerti) with the idea of convincing people: ‘hey, I could teach your daughter to play the piano’ but I think – more significantly – he loved opera so much and he really wanted to write opera. So he was hoping that somebody in the audience would hear and say ‘Wow! I want you to write my opera.’
“This concerto is incredibly dramatic and atmospheric. For people who are not overly fond of Mozart, his pieces in minor keys are an excellent place to start.”
I observed that the concerto exemplifies the emotions of the sturm und drang movement in German literature and music from the late 18th century. “Completely.” said Roger. “Because Mozart wrote this for himself, he didn’t write any cadenzas.” (Most likely he would have improvised them.) “So, I went to IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) to look for cadenzas. I was really hoping that there was one by Beethoven – apparently, Beethoven played this at a benefit concert for Mozart’s widow. Man, to have been a fly on that wall! Sadly, no cadenza from him has come down to us – he probably just improvised it on the spot.
“From the time of Beethoven on – on IMSLP – there are a number of different cadenzas: there’s one by Fauré, there’s one by Reynaldo Hahn, who was a French song composer! he didn’t really excel in big forms, but his imagination was captured enough that wanted to write a cadenza for it.
And now Roger has joined the ranks of those who have written cadenzas for this work. “Modestly.” he says. “I wanted to write something that didn’t sound like Mozart. Why should I sound like a fifth rate Mozart when I can sound like a second rate me?” he asked in his usual self-deprecating style. “It’s been a journey. A lot of times in classical music people approach the masterpieces on bent knee with their hat in hand. I’d like to think that I don’t do that, and yet I never even considered writing a cadenza for this until my friend Michael Rose – who is a composer and teaches composition and theory at Vanderbilt – we were out picking blackberries and he said ‘Roger, why don’t you write a cadenza?’ I’m a professional oboist and I’ve written oboe cadenzas dozens of times, but with the piano its like having an entire orchestra in front of you!
“I wanted (my cadenza) to be interesting, and captivating, and have a dramatic arc. I’m not somebody that improvises in a large way on the piano regularly… so that’s not part of my skill set. I don’t have an unbelievable technique like Brahms or Beethoven – who both played this piece – Brahms actually wrote a cadenza for it as well (sotto voce) that’s not very good! he didn’t publish it.
“So I just had figure out what my aesthetic and musical limitations were and make something that sounds like music within those.”
I can guarantee you that it sounds like music. It’s been an honor and a privilege preparing for these performances with Roger.
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Roger Wiesmeyer will perform the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with Jeremy Williams, violin; Kathryn Ladner, flute; Keith Nicholas, cello, and Walter Bitner, piano accompaniment in performances OnStage in Laura Turner Hall at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, and OffStage at W.O. Smith Music School on Thursday, November 19.
Admission is free but those attending must reserve tickets, which are available here: