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Mozart concerto still charms concertmaster Ralph Matson

One of the highlights of any Utah Symphony season is when concertmaster Ralph Matson relinquishes his chair in the orchestra for the soloist spotlight.

That happens this weekend when he plays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's mellifluous Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218, under guest conductor Klauspeter Seibel.

That will be paired on the concert with Anton Bruckner's magnificent Symphony No. 5 in B flat major.

Matson said in an interview with the Deseret News that he first encountered the Fourth as a youngster growing up in Detroit.

"It has real significance in my personal history. I was a very young player when I joined an all-city orchestra in Detroit. I was 9, and at the first rehearsal, I heard the first movement of the D major concerto played." That was by Robert Vernon, who is the principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra.

"I was struck by it," Matson said. "I had a real connection to it."

The five violin concertos Mozart wrote are very early works. The first was written when he was 17; the other four within a short space of time two years later.

"Mozart is often thought of as a great prodigy and that his greatness is in the works he wrote in his mature years," Matson said. "And in these concertos, you see his emergent maturity."

Mozart wrote the concertos for his own use, and they were intended to show off the soloist. They're not virtuosic in the sense of 19th century concertos, but they tested the limit of solo violin playing of the late 18th century.

"They were vehicles for (Mozart)," Matson said, "and what you hear is the virtuoso playing of the time. That is my approach to the D major concerto."

Matson added that the concerto "isn't as physically complex as the Brahms concerto," but it's demanding all the same. "The density of the musical activity and the complexity of thought is intense. You have to consider how you play each note." And Mozart leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

"Most of what is going on is not on the page. You're defining a character with the material, and that's significant to the performance."

There is something operatic about the Fourth, Matson said.

"The solo violin is a voice, and the work is like a little scene from an opera. My hope is to present it in a way that people can hear that. I want to artfully juxtapose these things that create this special character."

If you go...

What: Ralph Matson, violin; Utah Symphony, Klauspeter Seibel, conductor

Where: Abravanel Hall

When: March 5-6, 8 p.m.

How much: $16-$51

Phone: 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787

Group/student discounts: 801-533-6683

Web: utahsymphony.org

Musicians to gather donations for Utah Food Bank

This year, the Utah Symphony is once again participating in the national Orchestras Feeding America food drive. From 6:30-8 p.m. on March 5-6, Utah Symphony staff members will be on the plaza in front of Abravanel Hall accepting nonperishable food items that will be delivered to the Utah Food Bank. Everyone donating food items will receive a 20 percent discount coupon for selected future performances.

Last year, the Utah Symphony collected more than 1,400 pounds of food during the weekend-long drive.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com