The 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth fell on 27 January 2006. In order to pre-empt the occasion Sir Simon Rattle had prepared an all-Mozart programme for the New Year’s Eve Concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker on 31 December 2005. He and his orchestra were aided and abetted by a team of internationally acclaimed vocal soloists and by the American star pianist Emanuel Ax.
The programme was framed by the overture and final scene from the both entertaining and complex opera Le nozze di Figaro, a work that was less than a resounding success when performed for the first time in Vienna in May 1786. Not until it was staged in Prague in the November of that year did the opera achieve its breakthrough, prompting Mozart to write to one of his pupils in Vienna, striking a note of pride: “Here they talk of nothing but – Figaro; nothing is played, sung or whistled except – Figaro: no opera is as well attended as – Figaro and nothing but Figaro.”
The D major Symphony K 504 that Mozart also took with him to Prague was likewise enthusiastically received in the city and continues to be known as his Prague Symphony. Sir Simon Rattle’s performance of its opening movement at his New Year’s Eve Concert in 2005 was particularly admired by the press. According to the Berliner Zeitung, “Rattle brings out the element of inchoate formlessness and unfathomability that lies at the origin of this movement, bringing off an artistic feat that goes far beyond the merely interesting.” There is no doubt that this concert was a worthy start to a year in which the entire world was to recall and honour the genius from Salzburg.