We often think about the incredible competition that exists between performers. Classical music has its share of high-profile events where the top singers, pianists, and violinists all vie for the title of best in the world. Careers are launched by winning one such coveted prize, and although triumph in a major international competition like the Queen Elizabeth, the Tchaikovsky, or the Van Cliburn can act as a springboard, it is certainly no guarantee of fame and fortune.
When it comes to composers, we tend to think of each living in her own world. We imagine composers living in isolated spheres, laboring late by candlelight, spinning master creations by dipping a quill into ink and transcribing passion into tiny notes and rests. But in reality, composers live in the very same competitive atmosphere as performers. There are a finite number of orchestras, and the opportunities for composer to have a work premiered by an orchestra of the caliber of the Erie Philharmonic is actually quite rare. And let's face it, with amazing works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Strauss, and Beethoven, the field of works from which we can select our concert programs is already crowded. It can be hard to find a contemporary voice who can stand alongside those great composers and have something valid to say and be of a similar quality.
But we can and we must be a part of that natural process. We must continue to support the composers of our time and encourage them to write music that resonates today, using the instruments of yesterday. Our concert culture today is quite different than that of Mozart or Beethoven's day. Concertgoers then expected that the music they would hear would be new to them. They wanted to experience the latest creations. They craved the adventure of being a part of that creative process. That is why it is so fun to think of what kinds of rivalries and competitions existed between Mozart and Salieri, between Beethoven and Rossini. We can imagine the sheer jealousies that sprang from each composer hearing a great performance or hearing another audience leap to its feet or demand an encore. We can think of how composers took their cues from their rivals, either through imitation or through forging a consciously distinct path from that of their competitors.
We will look into those competitive composers in our concert on Saturday, when we pit two 'rival pairs' against each other. Three of the four composers emerged victorious. Their music is safely considered to be within the 'canon.' Their music has stood the test of time and now continue to be performed with a frequency that leads us to call them 'masters.' Mr. Salieri, very popular and highly-regarded in his day, remains on the periphery (and would be forgotten were it not for Peter Shaffer's famous play and film 'Amadeus'.) We will feature one of his charming scores to give you a chance to assess whether or not he's has been unjustly neglected.