The first symphony player to arrive in the women's dressing room at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts for Mozart's 250th birthday concert was Saejong Chang, a 32-year-old first violinist.
It was about a two-hour drive from her Virginia home, but Chang, a Peabody Institute graduate, says she is dedicated to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, a regional arts group with a fast-growing reputation. Besides, no serious musician can stay home on the first night of the Mozart Festival - which will include opera and choral music, even a Feb. 26 children's concert. The festival began Friday and continues in Annapolis through mid-March.
"It's an important day. I particularly like him [Mozart] because he's so bright and simple, he gives you a good mood," Chang said Friday as she rubbed rosin on her bowstrings. Her black velvet garments underlined a sense of belonging to a classic tradition with 50 fellow professional musicians, many of whom travel a distance to get there.
"But Don Giovanni is darker," she added, referring to the opera overture on the program, which Mozart composed four years before he died young and poor in Vienna at age 35.
From Maryland to New York to Salzburg, Austria, the composer's birthplace in 1756, the musical world paid thunderous tribute Friday to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Even the simple ones written by the "boy Mozart" for the piano, at the behest of his stern father, Leopold, remain central in the repertoire today.
When R. Lee Streby, the symphony's president, noted that a scheduled concert fell on Mozart's birthday, Jan. 27, the idea of a festival hit. The seven-week event encompasses the composer's various forms and brings together several performance arts companies housed in Maryland Hall - to show off the sum of its parts, organizers said.
"This is a perfect event in musical history to reach out to the community and create a common path," Streby said.
Leah Solat, an Annapolis Opera trustee, said it will be the first time that the city's opera has collaborated with Annapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians. "The Magic Flute opera is the grand finale, since it is his birthday after all," she said. "It's a nice, light way to finish off the festival, a fantastical story with elaborate costuming, sung in German."
Amy Consoli, marketing and publicity manager for the symphony, said, "The programming was chosen by the resident companies themselves. We wanted to market the festival to all our combined audiences."
As the orchestra warmed up onstage last weekend, a tuxedo-clad percussionist summed up Mozart's ageless appeal.
"He's very listenable," Don Spinelli said before the concert began for a full house of about 900 people. Spinelli said he enjoyed the change from his day job, playing with the Marine military band in Washington.
"This is an off-duty endeavor, a different genre from White House musical support," he said with a smile.
Starting with ballet music from the Idomeneo, an early opera that premiered in Munich, the symphony's new music director, Jose-Luis Novo, a native of Valladolid, Spain, started light. But it was clear the concert traced the complex arc of Mozart's artistry.
His early, innocent exuberance contrasts with the world-weary brilliance of his later works, especially the choral Requiem, composed on his deathbed.
Although Mozart has 41 symphonies to his name, Novo said he considered opera to be his greatest innovation, which is why Novo chose two operatic pieces to accompany the lighthearted first flute concerto and the commanding Symphony No. 41, the Jupiter.
"Opera was his great strength, with very humane characters, looking at the social problems of his time between the monied and the lower classes, and other themes, like fidelity," Novo, 38, said. "His operatic roles are trademarks, strong profiles, and we can relate to their problems."
After the lilting Idomeneo, flute soloist Marina Piccinini stepped onstage all the way from Vienna, where she is based. The Concerto No. 1 was something she seemed to know effortlessly, playing rapid passages from memory and keeping her eyes on Novo at the podium as the symphony stayed precisely on his baton. The scene was a relief to symphony officials because the prominent Piccinini was invited to appear when the principal flutist, heavily pregnant, had to forgo the solo concert on doctor's orders.
In the dressing room at intermission, a handful of students from Peabody, where she teaches, brought Piccinini bravas and bouquets.
"I'm so happy to play here today," the soloist said, radiant in a green gown. "He wrote this flute piece at a really nice time in his life, when he was away from his father and in the first blossom of love."
She added, "Mozart lives with you and in you. In Vienna, he is a part of our lives. He wasn't holy. He was engaging, sarcastic, witty. The deeper you go into this really golden repertoire, the more endlessly challenging it is."
The 30-year-old concertmaster, Mateusz Wolski - who started playing violin in his native Warsaw, Poland, and now lives in Baltimore - expressed a similar sentiment.
"Mozart is quite a ride. You get to know a composer through his work and you see what he went through. It's a journey of discovery."
Also at intermission, Gail Ritter asked for an iced coffee at the hall's cafe. She explained why she came to the birthday concert: "I've always wanted to hear him, hear Mozart live. I've listened to CDs before, but I'm glad I came."
At the end of the evening, symphony-goers left with Salzburg chocolates in hand. After changing, Novo walked toward the empty hall's door, heading toward his home in Arnold. Then his wife, Lori Kesner, a symphony flutist, rushed to tell him that Kimberly Valerio, the principal flutist, had given birth to a boy. This, they agreed, was some kind of omen.
"Born the same day as Mozart!" Novo said.
At 8 p.m. Feb. 11 and 2 p.m. Feb.12, the Ballet Theatre of Maryland will perform to selections of Mozart's music, including "The Marriage of Figaro." Note: The program is not all-Mozart. At 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Feb. 26, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will present a family concert, "Mozart's Magnificent Voyage," which tells a children's tale of Mozart's young son. Karl. All seats are $10. At 7:30 p.m. March 3 and 8 p.m. March 4, the Annapolis Chorale will perform the "Requiem." Mozart's Symphony No. 1 is also on the program. At 8 p.m. March 17 and 3 p.m. March 19, the Annapolis Opera will present "The Magic Flute." Information: Maryland Hall Box Office, 801 Chase St., 410-263-5544.