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Natalie Hoe gives Mozart Clarinet Concerto a voice

Natalie Hoe may have the toughest job in town this weekend: She has to play perfection.

That’s how some describe Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto – one of the splendors in all music – and no easy task to pull off as soloist. In essence, TFO’s principal clarinet won’t just be playing a concerto during the latest Tampa Bay Times Masterworks program – she’ll be distilling an opera.

“It feels like a compact opera,” Hoe said of Mozart’s masterpiece. “You have one phrase and the next is a response. But they’re completely different stylistically and you have to change the colors and sound to match. It depicts how human-like the clarinet is. It imitates all of the inflections in our voice.’’

Mozart’s concertos often are thought of as companions to his operas. Whether for piano, woodwind, violin or horn, the writing for solo instrument embraces the aria-like qualities of the voice. They show Mozart’s innate ability to portray characters in music, and in this case, his solo instruments become living things with personality all their own.

The Clarinet Concerto was the last piece Mozart completed in full, a work of disarming simplicity and sadness. The score is a tapestry of transcendental beauty, tinged with struggle, and, as you will hear this weekend, a sigh of resignation. But simplicity might not be an apt description.

“Unlike a lot of other clarinet concertos that are filled with acrobatics, this is full of human emotions and characters,’’ she said. “It’s very subtle, but super conversational. It takes you on a journey.’’

The concerto opens with a lilting theme in the strings to lay the groundwork for the soloist, who soon takes the handoff and treats listeners to a full range of highs and lows. The music is relaxed, sunny and effortless, but also reveals an intimate relationship between soloist and orchestra.

In an elegantly balanced slow movement, the clarinet develops themes introduced earlier into one of the composer’s most lyrical adagios. Mozart exploits the instrument to its full potential but without virtuosic display or even a cadenza. This is music of quiet reflection, and for some listeners, profound loneliness.

“In the middle movement, it really shows how beautiful the clarinet can sound,’’ Hoe said.

Soloist and orchestra come back into the light with a lively rondo in 6/8 time, but not without the clarinet offering a lament in the contrasting key of F sharp minor. The final movement, then, seems to balance happiness and sadness, mirth and melancholy, one masking the other as if Mozart wanted us to choose the mood for ourselves.

This will be Hoe’s first performance of the work before a paying audience. How will she handle the nerves?

“I try to imagine I’m playing for an individual person, not a whole hall,’’ she said. “I feel less stressed that way. And, I drink a lot of coconut water and eat a banana, because as wind players our mouths get dry. I’ll also have the score there as a safety net. But my goal is to play from memory. It’s all about trust in yourself.’’

Tampa Bay Times Masterworks
Mozart & Tchaikovsky

Michael Francis, conductor
Natalie Hoe, clarinet

Raul Richards: Return the Echo (world premiere)
Beethoven: Consecration of the House Overture

Fri, Dec 6, 8 pm, Straz Center, Ferguson
Sat, Dec 7, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Dec 8, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall 

Free tickets for kids and teens in advance
Join the pre-concert conversation 1 hour prior

Holiday Toy Drive: TFO musicians are collecting new unwrapped toys for kids in need during their annual toy drive. Bins will be in the lobby at all three concert halls.

Bonus this week! Inside Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6

Tchaikovsky bares his soul in his final work, Symphony No. 6. Join Michael Francis as he reveals the hidden story behind the masterpiece, before a full performance. Admission is pay what you can at the door.
Thur, Dec 5, 7:30 pm, Gibbs High School, St. Petersburg

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