Mitsuko Uchida's two-season-long Perspectives concerts entitled "Vienna Revisited" begin February 3 at Carnegie Hall when she performs and conducts two Mozart concertos (Nos. 20 and 21) with the Cleveland Orchestra. According to the pianist, she always knew what shape the programming would take.
"Over one single lunch, I set it up with [Carnegie Hall Artistic Advisor] Ara Guzelimian, and we gloated about it how good the programming was," she says with a laugh, adding that the late Carnegie Hall director Judith Arron had earlier assured her that "I could go as far as I wanted, even into unpopular repertoire."
Less unpopular than daring, Uchida's Perspectives concerts concentrate on the Second Viennese School‹Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern‹and the earlier Viennese composers she associates with them, including Mozart and Beethoven.
The series turns on the relationships Uchida finds among this diverse, centuries-spanning group. "Beethoven and Schoenberg are very closely related psychologically," Uchida says. "Schoenberg is highly emotional and passionate and can be very hard to understand, and the way he refuses to avoid ugliness has important parallels in Beethoven's music. Schoenberg admired that intellectual aspect of Beethoven."
Uchida continues, "Schoenberg also admired Mozart's seeming ease and flexibility. What he deliberately aimed at in his writing technique was Mozart's irregularities, which you usually don't notice because Mozart's music is so beautiful."
Schoenberg's Three Piano Pieces share the bill with Schubert's G-Major Sonata and Schumann's Fantasy in C Major in Uchida's second concert, a February 18 solo recital in Stern Auditorium. Uchida also links these 19th-century composers with the Second Viennese School. "Schubert," she comments, "is the spiritual link to all three of them." How does the German Schumann fit into the programming? "Schumann is the ultimate romantic composer, and the romantic composer of the 20th century is Berg," she says. "Intellectually, whatever they decide is always ruled by the emotional needs, which to me is complete romanticism. So I smuggled Schumann in because of Berg."
The rest of this spring's programs are enticing as well: three Weill Recital Hall concerts that pair Mozart with Schubert and Berg (April 24), Schubert with Schoenberg (April 28), and Mozart with Webern and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (May 2). The pianist herself looks forward to watching these programs unfold.
"Despite the fact that we're in the 21st century, the public still seems to find the music of the 20th century difficult to grasp, understand, and love," she says. "So I wrap the composers up nicely: I want the audiences to mix, and I want to bring 20th-century repertoire into programs of the masters.
"I hope people who would only go to Mozart will discover something new, something different. Only one out of 100 might say, 'That's wonderful,' but that's good enough for me."
She pauses, and you can almost hear the mischievous smile in her voice: "It's a well-premeditated crime."
Kevin Filipski is a frequent contributor to Playbill.