Peninsula Music Festival: All Mozart

Fewer and fewer people can remember the early days of the Peninsula Music Festival (PMF) when concertgoers sat on metal folding chairs in the Old Gym at Gibraltar School, the basketball hoop pulled up to the ceiling, the scoreboard shrouded from sight. PMF’s All Mozart program, with the combined PMF Chorus and Dudley Birder Chorale joining the PMF Chamber Orchestra and four soloists, would have been a fantasy at best.

But in the Door Community Auditorium, the concert was not only a reality, but a glorious spectacle that brought the full-house audience to its feet, and returned the soloists and conductors for repeated bows. If any doubts might have persisted as to whether the PMF has come of age, they vanished with the All Mozart evening.

Yuchi Chou, invited to Fish Creek by the PMF Emerging Conductor Program, led the Overture to The Impresario, offering a light hors d’oeuvre as a prelude to the evening’s musical banquet. Chou is currently a DM student in orchestral conducting at Northwestern University.

Victor Yampolsky resumed his baton for Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, a work that consistently reminds audiences why the composer has enjoyed such immense popularity for over 200 years. One conductor wrote of the piece, “There has been nothing…in music to surpass it in its special virtues. In it, the inner Mozart spoke. He wrote not for the age, but for the ages.”

After a bright majestic beginning, the piece moved to a stately pensive andante, followed by a joyfully dignified menuetto, and concluded with a jubilant resolution. The orchestral performance delighted the house.

But the centerpiece of the evening was the Mozart Requiem. Before picking up his baton Yampolski spoke to the audience, dedicating the performance to the memory of George Larsen who passed away a couple weeks ago. Larsen had figured largely in the cultural community of Door County both as a past director of the Peninsula Chamber Singers and a driving force behind the construction of the Door Community Auditorium.

Traditionally a requiem mass is performed for the repose of a departed soul. Several movements are sung in standard Latin text, including a Kyrie, Dies irae, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. If ever a requiem should achieve its end, the evening’s performance would be the one. The scope and power of the combined talents of a professional orchestra, brilliant soloists, and massive chorus was a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

Ironically, Mozart had been commissioned to write the requiem by a person who remained forever unknown to him. The composer was in ill health and convinced that he was writing the piece for his own funeral, which in a sense he was: he died before the orchestration of the requiem was completed.

The soloists included Kimberly McCord (soprano), Tracy Watson (mezzo-soprano), Grant Knox (tenor) and Christopher Grundy (baritone; but previously a professional helicopter pilot). Especially impressive was McCord with the soaring clarity of her voice.

Dudley Birder directed his St. Norbert College Chorale; Door County’s own Judith Jackson, the Peninsula Music Festival Chorus; both under the baton of Yampolski during the performance.

A problem for programmers of orchestral music results from the fact that concert audiences flock to performances of Baroque and Classical composers, but tend to shy away from unfamiliar and subsequently more challenging contemporary works. But as musicologists remind us, we need to hear the composers of today. “Prokofiev doesn’t sound a weird as he once did,” a musical friend confided to this writer, who agreed.

But, my goodness, an evening of all Mozart is fun!

The Peninsula Music Festival concluded their 2013 summer season, for more information about the festival and upcoming performances call 920.854.4060 or visit