To open its 78th season, Johnstown Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the musical genius of a renowned composer with an added soloist invited to the party.

Birthday Bash for a Genius, a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Richland Township.

Maestro Istvan Jaray, who is in his 23rd season with the symphony, believes Mozart is a true master.

His music has remained popular for hundreds of years, and his compositions are used in many films and other sound media today.

The concert will open with Mozart’s “Overture to The Magic Flute,” which was completed just two months before his death.

The overture to this comedic opera takes on a fairy-tale atmosphere.

Music critics have said that Mozart compressed the struggle and victory of all mankind into this overture.

Jonathan Gonder, associate vice president for academic affairs and an associate professor of music at UPJ, will be the featured soloist in the second offering, “Piano Concert No. 21,” also known as the “Elvira Madigan” concerto.

Mozart’s 21st piano concerto was written in less than one month in 1785 and has been known to be demanding for other soloists to perfect to the composer’s own performance standards.

The second movement became known as the “Elvira Madigan” because of its prominent part in the 1967 Swedish film of the same name.

The cadenzas, or extended virtuoso sections for a soloist, in Saturday’s performance were composed by Gonder.

“Mozart’s cadenzas were lost, so a performer has to use someone else’s or write their own,” Gonder said.

“I was feeling creative and didn’t like anyone else’s. This is the first time I’ve written something that I’ll perform in public.”

Gonder performed with the symphony two years ago when he was featured in Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” which he said is more difficult than the Mozart piece he will play Saturday.

“This is a new piece for me, but it’s not as difficult as Rachmaninoff,” Gonder said. “It’s the kind of piece that if you make a mistake, it stands out.”

Gonder said that for 20 minutes of the 25-minute number, he will be solo.

At the beginning of the second movement, the orchestra plays its section, then Gonder will repeat it.

“It’s a standard thing,” Gonder said. “We go back and forth like a dialogue. I feel tremendously privileged to perform with such an outstanding orchestra.”

A widely known concert pianist, Gonder has presented solo concerts, concerto performances with orchestras, chamber music, accompaniment and piano duo concerts.

A Toronto native, he began to study the piano when he was 7 years old.

Gonder earned a doctorate in piano performance from the University of Michigan.

Gonder was one of 100 students nationwide and the only performing musician to receive a scholarship for graduate study from the Canada Council, the equivalent of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In 2005, he toured western Pennsylvania as part of the Piano Masters series, a concert series featuring college and university faculty members, which he founded.

Gonder has appeared on national television and radio in Canada and on National Public Radio in the United States. He has performed at other venues in the United States, Canada and Europe, including WQED’s “Performance in Pittsburgh.”

The concluding work for the concert will be Mozart’s final symphony, “Symphony No. 41 Jupiter.”

It is not recorded that this symphony was performed during Mozart’s lifetime, and it acquired its nickname of “Jupiter” after his death.

Saturday will be Chamber Night at the Symphony. Members of the Greater Johnstown and Somerset chambers of commerce and symphony season-ticket holders will be invited to a pre-concert buffet dinner at 6 at Blackington Hall on the UPJ campus.

Tickets for the dinner are $15 for adults and $8 for students. The deadline for reservations is Monday.

Reservations can be made by calling the symphony office at 535-6738.

Single tickets for the concert are $26 for reserved seating, $22 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $10 for students.

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