Sir Neville Marriner – Mostly Mozart

Written by: Colin Anderson

The annual pleasures of “Mostly Mozart” arrive at the Barbican Centre from 8 July. Heading the first weekend is Sir Neville Marriner…

Sir Neville Marriner is delightful company as we talk about the annual four weekends that are Mostly Mozart. Beginning at the Barbican on Friday 8 July, the opening concert is actually completely Haydn, his oratorio “The Creation”. But a word on Mozart first. “It’s the variety of emotional and intellectual repertoire that he has; he’s covered the entire gamut of musical taste, certainly for the classical period and has become the focal point of musical engagement.” And Mozart’s early and mysterious death adds to the allure? “Dramatically speaking, he couldn’t have done it better!” However, is not Mozart too perfect while Haydn is endlessly resourceful? “You know, when we recorded all the Mozart symphonies and then most of Haydn’s, you discover that Mozart’s early symphonies do not compare with Haydn’s earliest, which are models of inventiveness.”

The ‘we’ is the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, an institution of several decades, which Sir Neville founded. He describes Haydn’s “The Creation” as one of his “favourite pieces, core repertoire, and a wonderful piece to open a festival with. The second one is a normal Mozart concert.” Saturday the 9th, then, includes what for some people is film music, the ‘Elvira Madigan’ piano concerto. Played by one of the most impressive younger-generation pianists, Jonathan Biss, this concert promises much. “He’s very good news. He’s the son of an old friend, Miriam Fried, the violinist; I’ve known the family for years.” Biss reminds, both in musical approach and in looks, of Alfred Brendel or Rudolf Serkin. “Exactly, I was going to say Peter Serkin. It’s very much the same character; they have the same informed way of playing. I love the approach of these people; after years with Brendel you get used to this absolutely encapsulated and confirmed performance that they have, a great number of delights. I wrap the orchestra around what the soloists feel about these pieces.”

Also in this concert is Sally Matthews in Exsultate Jubilate. “She’s super! Of all the new Mozart voices in England she is going to be for many years right in the front rank.” And the Paris Symphony is rather powerful? “Indeed. I think Mozart had a tough time at the first performance; he was told to write a better slow movement! We’ll play the second one.” A fine cast of soloists for “The Creation”, too – “yes, we’re lucky” – and Mostly Mozart also features the violinist Julia Fischer (23 July), someone who Sir Neville has taken an interest in. Plans include recording the Elgar and Barber concertos with her: “She is spectacular! I love her deeply!”

Over the years, and Sir Neville turned 80 in April last year, from his days in the London Symphony Orchestra, he has experienced many changes in how classical music is performed. “Stylistically, it is incomparable. I remember playing Mozart symphonies with the LSO with all the violins, with someone of the stature of George Szell. I will go along with the scholarship so long as it doesn’t dry out the music: as soon as it becomes desiccated, then you’ve lost me. Composers look ahead and take advantage of technical achievement. I remember, in the LSO, rehearsing Tippett’s Concerto for Orchestra. Barry Tuckwell said to Michael, ‘these notes are not on the horn’ and Michael said, ‘I know darling, but they will be soon!’ Composers do extend possibilities and to go backwards technically and inhibit players would not please any composer I know about.”

Back to the beginning, to “The Creation”, the first music heard is the daring ‘Representation of Chaos’. “It’s almost film music, it’s so explicit.” Sir Neville is very active; he confirms the Fischer sessions as 2007. “We plan ahead optimistically that we’re all going to be alive. It’s most extraordinary. I hardly do any concerts in England; I’m either in America, Germany or Austria, and Italy is busy, too.” It’s all music, though. “We’re touching wood that we are still required to provide it.” Cue Mostly Mozart: “It’s immensely accessible music and people come along in a celebratory mood.”


  • Mostly Mozart 8-31 July
  • Barbican Centre
  • Barbican Box Office 0845 120 7537
  • ASMF
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 6 July 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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