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From Mozart to Tchaikovsky: Violinist Gluzman’s secret for balance, strength

You don’t want to ask Vadim Gluzman if he has a favorite violin concerto among the dozens he plays all over the world. He will just answer your question with an equally perplexing one.

“If I were to ask if you had a favorite food, and could you eat it every day for an entire year, what would you say?’’ he says. “It’s the same way with my music. I like variety and balance in my life, and that includes my choices of repertoire.’’

The violinist offers a good balance in the upcoming Hough Family Foundation Masterworks program, which features Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4, Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome, Leonard Bernstein’s symphonic suite from On the Waterfront, and the Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) by Missy Mazzoli. Thomas Wilkins, TFO’s former resident conductor, takes the podium.

Gluzman, 50, is all about variety. He just wrapped up performances of the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Naples Philharmonic, and after playing Mozart with TFO, he tunes up his 334-year-old Stradivarius for Prokofiev, Mendelssohn, Vasks, Shostakovich and other composers in concerts in the United States and Europe.

“Next week, I’m playing Bruch and Bloch, and then the Beethoven concerto,’’ he says. “This kind of variety is what gives me strength.’’

When asked about switching gears between the soaring romantism of Tchaikovsky and the classical elegance of Mozart, Gluzman says the two are more similar than people might expect.

“In this case, what makes the task easier in going from one to the other is that Tchaikovsky’s favorite composer was Mozart, so you find a lot of Mozart in Tchaikovsky,’’ says Gluzman, who is the distinguished artist in residence at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. “Yes, you have to be ready to transform yourself on a dime, but there’s a lot of the same structure in the music.’’

Mozart wrote five violin concertos − all before he was 20 − and each stays safely within the classical-period mold, with its emphasis on galant stylishness. But much can be felt underneath the veneer. If the first two are more perfume than profundity, the next three reveal something else: “Suddenly there is a new depth and richness to Mozart’s whole language,” the critic and musicologist Alfred Einstein once said.

The last two concertos disguise their complexities by sounding simple. This underscores the challenge of No. 4, which Mozart cast in the bright key of D major. Structurally, it borrows from the Italian models of Nardini and Vivaldi but is pure Mozart in how it projects a sunny, lyrical personality seemingly without effort, the music carried forward with a pulsating energy.

The allegro opens as a march-like fanfare, the orchestra playing in military stride as the violin echoes the theme in the highest register. Shades of an opera aria appear in the charming andante cantabile, and while Mozart introduces an idea and recaps it, he avoids the traditional development section in between.

The work ends with a lively jig in the form of a French rondeau with dueling melodies. Listeners might notice the “droning’’ of the soloist’s lowest string, meant to evoke the sound of a hand-cranked hurdy-gurdy. None of this is easy to pull off, Guzman adds, but it shouldn’t sound demanding to the listener.

“Mozart is, technically speaking, excruciatingly difficult to play,’’ he says. “The seemingly simpler the music is, the more difficult it can be. And because you’re standing naked before an audience, the music is completely uncovered. Every sound is exposed, and to make it light and elegant and effortless and beaming with joy is incredibly hard to do. I have never met a musician who said Mozart is easy − never.‘’

Kurt Loft is a St. Petersburg-based freelance writer and former classical music critic for The Tampa Tribune.

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