Mozart and Salieri will meet again when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra kicks off its four-concert Mozart Festival Wednesday at Meyerhoff Hall. Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham will read letters and reminiscences written by and about both musicians while the BSO performs music composed by the two.
"I get requests to appear with orchestras from all over the world. I'm very specific about scripts -- I don't want to be a window dressing," says Abraham, who played Salieri in the film version of "Amadeus." "In this case, I insisted that Salieri be played as well."
The script for the program, written by former Washington Opera director Ian Strasfogel, includes excerpts from personal correspondence each composer had with his father, other relatives and friends, as well as observations their contemporaries made about them. Through their words and music, the complexities, jealousies and paradoxes of the two musicians' characters will unfold.
"An interesting thing about the evening that is different from the film," says Abraham, "is that it is live. The audience has the opportunity to respond to how the orchestra feels about the music. It will be an open and honest comparison of the two and Salieri will come off more favorably than people anticipated."
Abraham feels Salieri doesn't get the credit he deserves because he has always been compared to Mozart. And BSO Music Director David Zinman agrees. "You know, Salieri wasn't a bad composer at all," he says. "He was an important teacher and organizer of the time. He taught Schubert and Beethoven. He certainly wasn't Mozart but then a lot of people aren't."
The BSO's Mozart Festival will continue with three additional concerts later this month, one of which will be a "Mozart Marathon," a re-creation of a program presented by Mozart shortly before his death and one featuring a performance by violinist Sergiu Luca.