Merely Great

Ordinary mortals can have only the faintest idea of the first-world sorrows of a newspaper music critic. Last Wednesday night, San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman attended an all-Mozart concert performed by the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of it emeritus conductor, Herbert Blomstedt. Along with Mozart’s Hafner and Jupiter symphonies, the performance also included Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1, played by the orchestra concertmaster Alexander Barantschik.

A violin concerto by Mozart, performed by an outstanding violinist and a word-class orchestra led by a distinguished conductor in a concert hall with superb acoustics — a classical music lover’s dream right?


Not caring for the violin concerto, the critic’s mind drifted elsewhere. The concertmaster gave “an eloquent and committed performance,” but the experience left Kosman “wishing I were hearing him play something else.”

Is the Mozart concerto a failure, in the critic’s estimation? Not quite, opines Kosman: 

“Mozart’s compositions only come in two flavors — great and phenomenally great — then this early work is merely great, covering all the requisite bases with skill but not much innovation or surprise.”

So — merely great is second rate. Without novelty, the discerning critic is left yearning.

You think you have disappointments? Just imagine that your sensibilities are so exquisitely tuned that merely great Mozart fails to please.