By Bruce Duffie

His picture dominates the printed material and his music is featured on each of the seven performances.  Mozart.  The famous - and eternally popular - Wolfgang.  Amadeus to his friends and family.  In Woodstock, Illinois, the small suburb in McHenry county, July 27 through August 11 means the Woodstock Mozart Festival.  Three weekends of fine performances in this, their 15th season.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, plus the Chamber Concert on the final day at 4 PM.  All performances are in the charming and intimate Opera House, which seats only 412 people. This provides the kind of experience you don't really get in a large hall because everyone is really close to the performers.

It's a quiet kind of festival, which the presenters have dubbed ‘a boutique.' It draws audiences mostly from the local area, plus the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and the big-city itself.  But people also come from Indiana and Wisconsin to enjoy this very special gathering.

The heart and soul of the group is the General Director, Anita Whalen.  She was asked to help save the project when it was in trouble, and ran it by herself for 6 seasons before finding Mark Peskanov, "the partner that I needed for it to bloom and keep things fresh," as she herself says.  "What he doesn't think of, I do, and vice versa."  She calls it an ideal collaboration, which, she admits, is rare to have.  And it's a mutual-admiration society.

For his part, Peskanov, a violinist and now the Artistic Advisor, was engaged by the Festival to play a Mozart concerto.  When he met Anita, he says, "The magic started right there.  I was astounded to find someone of such intelligence and excitement and total dedication to her festival."   After that first summer, he was re-engaged, and the chemistry just evolved.  "So far it's been successful.  We both can just decide and plan and change... it's wonderful."  He goes on to say, "We have great freedom and great communication with each other."  He also insists that she continue to play keyboard in the orchestra.

Besides Wolfy, this year's programs will also have music by Joseph Martin Kraus, whose dates are virtually identical, and was called the ‘Swedish Mozart,' Franz-Joseph Haydn, who was Mozart's friend and declared him to be the "greatest composer known to me in person or by name," Johann Sebastian Bach, who influenced Mozart's style, Felix Mendelssohn, who publicly and privately admired Mozart, Franz Schubert, whose life was even shorter than Mozart's, and Fritz Kreisler, who, like Mozart, was both violinist and composer.

The first weekend, July 27 and 28 will be under the direction of Russell Harris, a British conductor who works a great deal in Germany.  He was recommended to Whalen by one of the bass players in the orchestra.  That program has an Overture by Kraus, the Oxford Symphony (#92) by Haydn, and two works of the Festival's namesake: The Adagio and fugue in c minor, K. 546, and his K. 365, which is a concerto for 2 pianos, to be played by the team of Petrou and Apostolopoulos.

The second weekend, August 3 & 4, has a pair of concerts featuring a husband-wife team.  Conductor Klaus Donath, who has worked all over for many years, and soprano Helen Donath, originally from Texas who has had a big, mostly-European operatic career, making many opera and concert recordings, including quite a bit of Mozart!  She will sing two of his arias plus the famous "Exsultate jubilate, K. 165.  Also that weekend will be his 39th symphony, plus the Schubert 5th, D. 485.

The final weekend, August 10 & 11,  features the usual pair of symphonic showcases, plus a chamber concert on Saturday at 4 PM.  Mark Peskanov is both Violinist and Conductor.  The Mozart symphonic work is the Divertimento in D, K. 136.  Then, another ‘double concerto' - this one by Bach for 2 violins, featuring Peskanov and the Festival's concertmaster, Karen Smith, and the Brandenburg Concerto #4, plus a work of Fritz Kreisler.  The chamber concert has a Mozart Sonata, and the Mendelssohn String Quintet, Op. 87, with Peskanov and the Festival Orchestra Players.

Mozart has always been close to Peskanov's heart.  One of the first recordings he heard as a child in Ukraine, was the g minor 40th symphony.  "I remember this recording very well and it was my favorite piece.  It was one of the few records that I listened to all the time."  Born in the "Mozart year" of 1956, Peskanov came to the US in 1973 to study at Juilliard.  He says, "The real stuff started when I began to collaborate with Isaac Stern."  In the mid 80s, he played lots of chamber music, with the senior violinist, as well as cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich,

So what's so special about Mozart?  Peskanov says, "There's a great mystery and mystique about what is flowing so beautifully and so naturally and straight from one heart to another's.  People who've never heard music before hear Mozart and they get very excited."  This bodes well for the Woodstock Mozart Festival.  Peskanov says that music flows from, "Mozart's heart to the listener's heart, through the performer's heart. We're all involved in him."  Then how much is Mozart and how much is Peskanov?  "It would be very hard to say.  I don't think I'm trying to do anything like Peskanov would do it.  I really try to be able to go in as deep as possible to the beauty of the music and bring it out, and show my appreciation for his music."

Peskanov will both play and conduct, as Wolfgang did during his brief lifetime.  "I'm just a musician," he says.  "There was not the title of ‘conductor' during Mozart's time.  He led his own music from the keyboard, or played violin or viola... he probably sang, too!"  Peskanov praises his Woodstock group.  "Musicians are very intelligent in our orchestra," he says.  "If you're very clear in the way that you play, they understand, and they just go with you.  For those pieces, you don't have to wield a big stick.  People who make music together communicate through the language of music."

Being an international touring musician, this is not always the case, and he spoke of performances elsewhere.  "While being soloist, the conductor sometimes was playing a different piece, and the orchestra followed me pretty well in those circumstances."  I asked him, in those instances who won.  "The composer always wins!"  he said, adding, "and the audience wins."

Besides the seven performances, there are pre-concert Musical Introductions at 7 PM on the first two weekends.  There is also a free outdoor concert on Wednesday, August 1 at 7 PM on the Woodstock Square with a wind octet from the Orchestra.  For more information on the Woodstock Mozart Festival, write to P.O. Box 734, Woodstock, IL  60098.  Subscription and single tickets are available at (815) 338-5300.

The Woodstock Mozart Festival may be somewhat quiet, but, as Whalen says, the audience, "expects dynamite, and we try to provide it."

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Bruce Duffie was an award-winning Announcer/Producer with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago for over 25 years. He now writes for various publications, and can be found on the internet at  http://www.bruceduffie.com  .  His e-mail address is  duffie@voyager.net  .

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Given to the Woodstock Festival for use during the 2001 season.