- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

SALZBURG, Austria — People toasted Mozart with champagne yesterday and sang “Happy Birthday” outside the house where he was born in Salzburg, as the world celebrated the birth 250 years ago of the musical genius.

“You feel Mozart in every street here,” Salzburg resident Christine Mandl said, as she stood with thousands of others to listen to church bells mark the hour when he was born, at 8 p.m. on Jan. 27, 1756.

Austrian wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stunned the courts of Europe with his brilliance as a child pianist and went on to compose more than 600 works, many of them masterpieces, even though he was just 35 when he died.

Salzburg, which practically lives off the tourism for Mozart and his music, led music lovers in marking the anniversary of perhaps the world’s most popular classical composer.

Souvenirs spilled out of shops on to the cobbled streets, Mozart banners fluttered in the breeze and shopkeepers sold everything from Mozart liqueurs to thimbles featuring his portrait as the town geared up for a year of special events.

Visitors were treated to an all-Mozart gala concert in the giant “Festspielhaus” featuring world-famous singers and musicians, and there was another outdoor performance nearby complete with wine and free chocolate cake.

Clara Chan, 24, an occupational therapist working in Britain who traveled with a friend to Salzburg for the birthday, said she loved Mozart for what he accomplished during the short time he lived.

“It’s just amazing what he achieved in the time that he had,” said Miss Chan, who wore a heavy coat and hood against the wintry Salzburg weather that covered the town and nearby hills and mountains in snow.

Elsewhere, Vienna began three days of parties and performances to celebrate the flowering of a genius who came into his own and wrote his most enduring masterpieces in the city.

The Paris Opera premiered a new production of “Don Giovanni,” directed by avant-garde film maker Michael Haneke, while the New York Philharmonic is staging three weeks of events devoted to the matchless maestro.

The sold-out gala in Salzburg, where tickets cost $180, featured top names from the classical music world, including mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, pianist Mitsuko Uchida, violinist Gidon Kremer and violist Yuri Bashmet, with the Vienna Philharmonic under Riccardo Muti.

“Performing this music here, where he was born, in a way you feel ‘Oh, this is what Mozart saw, this is what Mozart was breathing; the air, the atmosphere,’ ” said Italy’s Miss Bartoli. “I think this is very contagious.”

Some local residents think the focus on Mozart is excessive, while others argue that Salzburg is still atoning for having made it impossible for Mozart to fulfill his ambitions there, spurring his permanent departure for Vienna.

“Salzburg was where he was born and where he was rejected,” Lorin Maazel, music director of the New York Philharmonic, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think he was capable of writing a boring bar of music.”

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