Eugene Weekly : Music : 10.4.07

Triumph of the Underdog
Mozart Players celebrate with a bang

Nancy Allen

Most cities Eugene’s size count themselves lucky to have a classical orchestra at all. We boast not only one of the finest symphony orchestras of any comparably sized city, but also a separate chamber orchestra that, despite being overshadowed by its larger cousin, has enriched Eugene’s musical culture to a degree disproportionate to its size. On Friday, the Oregon Mozart Players make a rare appearance on the big stage at the Hult Center to celebrate a quarter-century of proving that great things can indeed come in small packages. The concert, featuring international stars Carol Wincenc and Nancy Allen in one of Mozart’s most alluring works, the Concerto for Flute and Harp, and a world premiere, shows just how respected the group is on the national scene. With a Schumann symphony, a plush 1907 setting of a Walt Whitman poem for chorus and orchestra by Vaughan Williams and a Handel bonbon, it’s one of the best classical music events of the year.

The OMP perform some of the Western tradition’s finest music, much of which (before around 1800) was written for smaller forces than today’s typical symphony orchestras. Not surprisingly, music written for chamber orchestra sounds better — lithe, transparent, intimate — when performed by the size ensemble the composers intended, and especially when heard in the UO’s Beall Hall, a frequent OMP venue. Moreover, the group has often performed contemporary music — including this weekend’s premiere of OMP music director Glenn Cortese’s Apollo’s Fire, a short tone poem that evokes the spirit of 16th-century English poet John Lyly’s “Hymn to Apollo” and the many associations with the Greek god of, among other things, music.

Like Eugene’s music scene in general, the Oregon Mozart Players, as they used to say about boxers, punch above their weight — they’re the scrappy underdogs whose intimate performances are often more enjoyable than other large-stage extravaganzas. Their triumph over occasional financial adversity and long odds is worth celebrating.          

Oregon Mozart Players’ Silver Anniversary Gala. 8 pm Friday, Oct. 5. Hult Center. $15-$35.