His genius in turning a musical phrase immortalized Mozart. But he could also turn a phrase in words.
The two skills complement each other in a pair of concerts, narrated by Alan Alda, opening the 33rd Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival Sunday and Monday evenings. “Mozart: A Portrait in Music and Words” vocalizes excerpts from the life of the wunderkind composer who died destitute at age 35 — young even for his time, 1756-1791.
“There’s a lot we know about Mozart from ‘Amadeus,’ ” the Broadway play and movie, says Alda, who will read passages from letters in chronological sequence introducing selections of Mozart’s works composed from age 8 until three years before his death.
“The letters, charming and amazing, tell an overall story about what was happening at the time,” Alda says.
The earliest letters, to his father, reveal a youthful and mischievous energy, as reflected in “Amadeus,” in which he is depicted as an often foul-mouthed rascal.
“You get a feeling from his own words what his music is about,” says Marya Martin, flutist and founder of the festival. She collaborated with Alda on a similar presentation in 2002.
“We found the script from that reading along with some more letters. . . . We see that he loved his wife but that he loved her sister first,” Alda says with a laugh. “We feel his frustration at getting paid in gifts instead of money. He writes about all the gold watches that he has no use for.”
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ALL AMADEUS The first piece, Mozart’s Sonata in F major for Piano and Flute, is set up by letters from the 8-year-old to his father in which the fun-loving Amadeus emerges. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker and Martin are featured in the piece. Mozart was 21 and in love when he wrote his Flute Quartet in D major, on which Martin joins violinist Kristin Lee, violist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan. The Piano Quartet in E-flat major (1786) and the Piano Trio in C major (1788) take us to the last years of his life, painting an intimate musical portrait amplified by the composer’s spoken prose.
Not on the program is Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, which has special meaning to Alda. “That was how we met. She was playing in a chamber concert at a friend’s home,” Alda says of his wife, Arlene, a clarinetist. Alda later selected the Clarinet Concerto for the final episode of “M*A*S*H,” which he wrote.
FESTIVE NOTES “We love the festival — the best musicians playing the most beautiful music,” Alda says. He and Arlene have a home in Bridgehampton.
Other festival highlights are a free outdoor concert Aug. 3 behind Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, where most of the programs are performed; “Unfinished Business” Aug. 15 at the Parrish Art Museum, accompanying an exhibit by the same title; and three of Bach’s six Brandenburg concertos — plus wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres — Aug. 19 at nearby Channing Sculpture Garden.