OK Mozart Festival celebrates 30th year in Bartlesville

By Glenda Rice Collins, For The Oklahoman

BARTLESVILLE — Exuberant Viennese waltzes, youthful talent, creative crossover and innovation set the tone for the 30th anniversary celebration of the OK Mozart International Festival, now known as OKM.

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker, an internationally celebrated Canadian ambassador of music, was guest artist for the June 8 Opening Festival Concert. Various components of Oklahoma’s 145th Army Band performing in expanded weekday showcase concert offerings brought added dimensions of world-class diversity to the Bartlesville Community Center highlights.

Constantine Kitsopoulos, OKM artistic director/conductor, this year emphasized “putting the Mozart back in OK Mozart” to honor traditions, following a few years of expanded crossover concerts. His “OK Mozart 30th Anniversary Fanfare” established precedence for honoring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during the opening concert. Parker brought mesmerizing sensitivity and delicacy to his playing of evocative, interpretive passages of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor, K. 486” (1785), performing with rapturous efficacy throughout.

A series of inspired “firsts” helped enliven the weeklong festivities: a black-tie waltz ball gala, the debut of the OKM All-State Youth Orchestra in full concert for an impressive performance of Gustav Mahler’s musically and spiritually demanding “Symphony No. 1 in D Major” (1887-88), with their mentors, the seasoned Amici New York Orchestra members; and a partially staged version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” opera, featuring the Bartlesville Choral Society with Amici musicians and various superb guest artists.

The week ended with the vibrant “Ode to Joy,” tucked within the spirited Beethoven “Symphony No. 9 in d minor, Choral” (1822-1824), as sung with the New York orchestra by some 100 voices, including the Bartlesville Choral Society and Stillwater Chamber Singers, at the finale concert Saturday night. Guest vocal soloists Courtney Bray, Charles Temkey, Trey Smagur and Siena Forest enhanced Beethoven’s hour-long iconic, masterpiece symphony with classic elegance and stage presence.

Waltzes to Woolaroc

In her first performance visit to Oklahoma, singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz, 22, a three-time Grammy nominee from Texas, took the spotlight for Thursday night’s OKM Crossover Concert for another OKM first: performing as a contemporary concert artist with select members of the Amici orchestra in featured arrangements prepared for her by maestro Kitsopoulos, creating innovative ways to attract new audiences to the annual festival.

“The Magic Flute” event, sung in English, proved to be an enchanting vehicle for rising young guest artists including Lucas Tarrant (Papageno), and Elizabeth Hays (Papagena), senior vocal performance majors at Oklahoma City University and the University of Oklahoma, respectively; Tulsa University alumna Sarah Williams as “Queen of the Night,” and mezzo-soprano Courtney Bray, recent recipient of a master’s degree in vocal performance from OU, as the “Third Lady.” Also featured were opera world luminaries from New York City: Queens tenor Francisco Corredor, as a sprightly and amusing “Monastatos,” and Long Island native bass Charles Temkey, a Tulsa Opera veteran (“La Boheme” & “The Magic Flute”), all distinguished with diverse credits.

From the first elegant OKM Viennese Waltz Ball gala honoring long-time OKM patrons Pete and Theo Silas, along with Glenn & Ronnie Cox in the newly restored historic, landmark Johnstone-Sare Building downtown, to the annual “picnic-style” OKM Woolaroc Outdoor Concert by Clyde Lake, concert enthusiasts were repeatedly mesmerized by Amici orchestra musicians under the masterful baton of Kitsopoulos. Waltz Ball Gala patrons were regaled by musicians playing Johann Strauss, Jr. waltzes including “The Blue Danube,” “Voices of Spring,” and the intoxicating “Kaiser-Walzer” (“Emperor Waltz”), as guests dined and danced overlooking city lights.

The Amici orchestra presented more waltzes during the Woolaroc Outdoor Concert on Friday night, with a reprise of “The Blue Danube” along with Franz Lehar favorites. Featured soloists during the evening included Indiana University tenor Trey Smagur in his professional debut; and Massachusetts soprano Siena Forest, who soon joins Minnesota Opera.