If you make a list of great composers who started out as prodigies, Mozart belongs at the head of that list. Yes, Felix Mendelssohn and Camille Saint-Saens—even Erich Wolfgang Korngold—also belong on such a list, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is hands down first among all contenders.
Son of a successful Salzburg court musician and modest composer, the seven–year-old Mozart was paraded before the courts of France and England by papa Leopold to impress the nobility with the lad’s precocious keyboard abilities and facile compositions. And to augment the Mozart family’s meager finances with such amazing displays.
So it is entirely fitting that this season San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Mozart and the Mind series has chosen to focus on the theme of prodigy. Friday’s (September 25) opening program offered a solo piano recital by the 12-year-old Gavin George and a lecture on creativity and the human brain by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio.
No doubt about it—Gavin George is a genuine prodigy. At high velocity and exhibiting supreme confidence, he sailed through all the daunting challenges of eight of Chopin’s Etudes, Op. 10, from the delicious melodies of No. 3 in E Major to the fiery clamor of No. 12 in C Minor, known as the “Revolutionary” etude. His account of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli in D Minor displayed ample sensitivity to the range of harmonic colors the composer lavished on Corelli’s simple theme, and George appeared to relish the tumultuous thunder of the most complex variations.
In Beethoven’s familiar Piano Sonata in C Major (“Waldstein”), George’s technical dexterity triumphed over interpretive considerations. He gave us a great show of exuberant keyboard facility, but Beethoven’s sonata is more than an etude. It will be of interest to hear what George has to say about this sonata 10 years from now.
His encore: “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
From Prof. Damasio’s lecture we learned that current extensive brain research is now able to demonstrate objectively what music teachers have claimed for years: the consistent study of music by young children develops the mind in unique ways that gives children an edge over those who do not study music. Will such scientific studies encourage school boards who have removed music from the curriculum because they think it is a worthless “frill” to reinstate music in their schools?
Don’t hold your breath.