The String Orchestra of the Rockies opens its season Sunday by imagining "Mozart in Paris."
The centerpiece is the composer's Piano Concerto No. 9 in Eb Major with guest soloist Gilles Vonsattel, a native of Switzerland who's performed with top symphonies in the United States and Europe.
Artistic director Fern Glass Boyd said the piece, written when Mozart was 21, has a "youthful exuberance" and themes that will be familiar even to casual fans of classical music. To the seasoned fans, it's considered one of his best. The orchestra will be supplemented by some strings and woodwinds.
He wrote it for a piano virtuoso in Paris, which colors the rest of the program for Sunday's concert. Vonsattel, who counts the piece among his regular repertoire, will lead the orchestra while performing, much as Mozart would have. The SOR, a professional ensemble of Montana teachers and performers, doesn't have a conductor.
The evening will open with an orchestra performance of an instrumental suite by French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). It's a keyboard suite that has been arranged for strings.
Boyd said American listeners are well acquainted with Italian and German Baroque music such as Vivaldi and Bach, but the French composers don't have as high a profile as they do in Europe. The French iteration has its own flavor, she said, one that's particularly colorful, ornamented and evocative. For these pieces Sixième Concert from Pieces de clavecin en concerts, Rameau wrote musical portraits of animals, people and even objects.
The second work, Suite for Strings, is by Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928).
While it's written in the form of a French dance suite, Boyd said his piece has its own voice, including Bohemian rhythms and a 20th century, yet tonal, air.
Further along in the season, the orchestra has several "firsts" in its 30-year history. In November, they'll bring in John Lenti, a virtuoso on the lute, an instrument the SOR has never featured before despite its regular performances of Baroque repertoire.
In February, Brian Stucki will demonstrate an usual skill set: He's an expert tenor vocal soloist and cellist.
"At this level of expertise as well, you don't expect a classically trained singer to cross over and be an instrumentalist at the same time," Boyd said.
In May, the orchestra will invite two of its regular soloists, violinist Maria Larionoff and double bassist Barry Lieberman, for "The Cascades Meet the Rockies," the official kick-off of the SOR's Pacific Northwest tour through Idaho, Washington and Montana.
The music will be regionally appropriate, including a work by the late David Maslanka. The Missoula-based composer died in August at age 73, having built a body of work that's performed around the world. While he's considered a pre-eminent composer for wind ensembles, he wrote for all formats. In the early 1990s, the SOR commissioned a work that they will present in his memory.
Tickets are on sale at GrizTix outlets and griztix.com, 888-MONTANA (666-8262) or the Adams Center box office. Single concert tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors and $10 for students. Season tickets are $110 for adults or $90 for seniors.
All concerts take place at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Montana School of Music's Music Recital Hall. For more information, go to sormt.org.
Sunday, Sept. 17
"Mozart in Paris," featuring Gilles Vonsattel, piano soloist
Sunday, Nov. 19
"Apollo's Lute," featuring John Lenti, lute
Sunday, Feb. 18
"Heroes and Legends," featuring Brian Stucki, cello and tenor soloist
Sunday, May 6
"The Cascades Meet the Rockies," featuring Maria Larionoff, violin, and Barry Lieberman, double bass