By Lawrence Budmen

Awadagin Pratt has the look of a rap star - dreadlock hair, a flamboyant bright yellow shirt with black dots. He is a larger than life musical personality. More importantly, he is a poet of the piano. Pratt made his South Florida debut at the Florida Philharmonic's "Evening of Mozart" concert on February 6, 2003 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach.

The "Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major," K.488 is mature Mozart. It is filled with vitality, radiant melodies, and lovely writing for the woodwinds- classical elegance and musical sophistication raised to a new artistic level. Like Italian pianist Pietro De Maria (who performed this past fall at Festival Miami), Pratt commands a vast palette of pianistic colors. Subtle use of dynamic shadings enhances his keyboard mastery. Soft tones caress the melodic line while he can unleash a torrent of tonal power at climactic moments. The bell like touch Pratt brought to the A Major concerto's opening Allegro was a continual delight. He played his own cadenza - an imaginative deconstruction of the movement's melodic material that was wryly un-Mozartean. Yet the virtuoso pizzazz of his playing and the wit of his musical elaboration kept it from being an unwanted intrusion. The modulations into a minor key of the Andante gave Pratt full sway to weave a pearly toned romantic aura. The yearning, poignant undertones seemed to flow effortlessly from the keyboard. The virtuoso dash and sparkle of the concluding Presto were intoxicating. Pratt's mastery of the classical style, imaginative ornamentation of the melodic line, and command of the music's light and dark shadows produced Mozart playing of the highest order. 

Mozart's piano concertos are really orchestral chamber music. The solo and ensemble playing must be perfectly coordinated. The soloist and musicians must literally breathe the musical line together. Conductor Joseph Silverstein is a great violinist and chamber music player. His view that solo work and conducting enhance each other came to fruition in this performance. He wove exquisite string and wind textures from the Florida Philharmonic musicians. Pratt and Silverstein seemed to feel every bar of the score as one. This was that rare concerto performance where every note from beginning to end seemed to flow seamlessly and beautifully. Here was truly great Mozart playing!

The "Symphony No.18 in F Major," K.130 is a work of the 16 year old Mozart. Here is already a work of genius. Melodic invention, witty instrumentation, and structural boldness abound in this score. All of these qualities were given full play in Silverstein's masterful performance. He used a full string section, which enhanced the fascinating instrumental writing. He caught the humor of the opening Allegro. The Andante Gracioso sang with an operatic soul. The melodic line moved like a flowing stream. The conductor brought clarity to the dialogue between the violins, violas, and basses that defines the unique originality of the third movement Menuetto. The Molto allegro finale had a Beethoven-like strength to complement the large scale of Mozart's musical discourse. Except for a momentary lapse by the horns, the Florida Philharmonic played wonderfully. Glowing winds and elegant strings contributed musical glamour. This splendid performance confirmed that Silverstein is an expert proponent of the chamber orchestra repertoire. (He is principal conductor of Seattle's Northwest Chamber Orchestra.)

Mozart's "Symphony No.40 in G Minor," K.550 (1788) may be the first truly romantic symphony. It overflows with brooding passion and romantic ardor while maintaining an 18th century classical framework. Silverstein gave full measure to the disturbing minor mode that intrudes on the melodic line of the Andante. There was power in the Molto allegro and old world charm in the Minuet and Trio-Allegretto. The Finale-Allegro assai overflowed with stormy intensity. The entire performance was beautifully proportioned and well played. Silverstein skillfully highlighted many subtle instrumental details. The symphony emerged anew as a highly satisfying musical acquaintance. 

This Mozart evening brought some outstanding music making. The Florida Philharmonic was playing like a first rate orchestra again and the soloist was truly special. Awadagin Pratt is a major pianistic talent - a rising star! His future appearances are eagerly awaited. 

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