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Mozart especially marvelous for French pianist

Jean-Philippe Collard, piano
Jean-Philippe Collard, piano
Utah Symphony

One of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's best known piano concertos, No. 23 in A major, K. 488, is also one of his most popular.

Its sunny and bright tunefulness is infectious and irresistible. And not only for listeners. It's also a favorite among pianists. And for Jean-Philippe Collard it holds a special place in his heart — but for a very different reason.

"When I was young, I went to Berlin to play at a competition," Collard said in a phone interview with the Deseret News from Eugene, Ore. "I was 10 years old and my father went with me. Back then we had to travel by train and it took 22 hours to go from Paris to Berlin."

This was his first important piano competition, and the boy's father promised him a present if he won.

"He said, 'I will buy your first score for piano if you win.' "

The young pianist went on to win the competition and his father treated him by buying the score to Mozart's K. 488 concerto. "It was very special to me, and I fell deeply in love with the music and had to learn it right away," Collard said. "And I still have that score with me."

The A major concerto will be on the program when Collard comes to Salt Lake City this coming weekend to play with the Utah Symphony under the baton of guest conductor Gilbert Varga.

Also on the program are two works unfamiliar to Utah Symphony audiences: Ruth Crawford Seeger's "Rissolty Rossolty: An American Fantasy" and the Andante for String Orchestra. (Seeger, incidentally, is folk singer Pete Seeger's stepmother.)

Rounding out the concert is Antonin Dvorak's ever popular Symphony No. 9, better known to most as the "New World Symphony."

Collard's father was a talented amateur musician. An organist who played every Sunday in church, he was an important influence in the budding young performer's life — but not in the way one would have expected.

"He didn't want me to become a professional musician," Collard said. And although he was taking piano lessons, the elder Collard probably never expected his son to become the successful and sought after concert artist he turned out to be.

"My father kept saying, 'Of all my children, he is lazy. He only practices 10 minutes a day.' Yet he never interfered with my practice or with my teachers. And he never told me about interpretation. But he was attentive and always optimistic."

Despite his extensive repertoire and his affinity for the music of French composers (when the Deseret News spoke with him he had just performed Maurice Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand with the Oregon Symphony and Carlos Kalmar), Collard always enjoys every opportunity he has for playing Mozart's concertos.

"This is music from heaven," the 62-year-old pianist said. "It is so fantastic and clean and clear. It is sheer purity. Everyone should love Mozart. His music speaks to everyone on the planet."

If you go...

What: Jean-Philippe Collard, piano; Gilbert Varga, conductor, Utah Symphony

Where: Abravanel Hall

When: Feb. 12 and 13, 8 p.m.

How much: $16-$51

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

Group discounts phone: 801-533-6683

Web: utahsymphony.org

Also: Val A. Browning Center for the Performing Arts, Weber State University, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m., $13-$33 (801-399-9214 or symphonyballet.org)

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com