Audiences coming to Lincoln Center for the Mostly Mozart Festival this summer will find a campus transformed, starting with the broad, grand staircase that rises from Columbus Avenue and leads visitors to Josie Robertson Plaza. Sleek steel-and-glass canopies extend from Avery Fisher Hall and the David H. Koch Theater like an open embrace. The iconic Revson Fountain has been re-imagined: fresh, exuberant, radiant, and glamorous at night.
There's a palpable tingle in the air and it seems to have found special resonance in this summer's Mostly Mozart Festival that features orchestra concerts, dance, late-night programs, pre-concert recitals; guest ensembles, musicians, both established and new talent making debuts, an artist-in-residence; and, above all, programming that is engaging and, in the best sense, provocative. "We are taking what I affectionately refer to as an iPod shuffle approach to the festival this year," says Jane Moss, Artistic Director of Mostly Mozart. "And tipping our hat to composers with significant anniversaries, Chopin being one, Schumann, the other." Indeed, juxtaposition of repertoire with related and stylistically contrasting works has become a festival hallmark, but there's nothing random about it.
Fr_d_ric Chopin (1810 _1849), whose brief life span exceeded Mozart's by only four years, was an ardent admirer of the 18th-century composer, and Mozart's musical influence is evident. Chopin's piano concertos represent a distillation of a particular, late form of the Mozartean genre. Robert Schumann, in his journal Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, heralded Chopin and his music with the proclamation: "Hats off, gentlemen, a genius." In the festival's opening pair of programs (July 27, 28), pianist Emanuel Ax joins Louis Langr_e, the festival's Ren_e and Robert Belfer Music Director, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in performances of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor. Now in his eighth season, Langr_e has transformed the ensemble into a fleet, stylistically flexible, and responsive group. He and the orchestra turn their attention to Schumann in a program of the composer's Fourth Symphony that also features violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk in Mendelsohn's rarely performed Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings (August 17 _18).
Mozart's late piano pieces pre-figured the character pieces of the Romantic era that Chopin cultivated singularly in the mazurka, polonaise, nocturne. There could be no better place to hear this music than in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, the aerie ten stories above Manhattan streets, with views of city lights, and a setting that suggests a modern day salon that Chopin might have favored. Fortunately, for fans of the popular late-night recitals (concerts start at 10:30, wine included), Mostly Mozart presents two all-Chopin programs, both by leading interpreters: pianists Mihaela Ursuleasa (July 28) and Simon Trpceski (August 17), the latter in his festival debut.
The introduction of artists, many making American debuts, distinguishes Mostly Mozart. Moss comments, "Presenting musicians is an important role of the festival. In some cases, artists may have appeared in New York, but Mostly Mozart offers another important platform." In 2009, conductor Yannick N_zet-S_guin made his bow at the festival before returning this past season to lead acclaimed performances of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera. This summer, audiences will discover musicians, including the young dynamic Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado; violinist Isabelle Faust; pianists David Fray, Peter Jablonski, Alexander Melnikov, Antti Siirala, and the dazzling Ebne Quartet; four French musicians as passionate about the classical string quartet as they are about jazz, and whose programs can feature Haydn alongside improvisations on Spain by Chick Corea.
As always, Mostly Mozart remains a forceful magnet, drawing the world's leading artists to its stages. Pianist Piotr Anderszewski joins conductor Paavo J‹rvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie as soloist in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453 (August 2). Violinist Gil Shaham takes up the composer's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, with its vivid Turkish music rondo (August 3 _4). Conductor Osmo V‹nsk‹ returns to lead an all-Mozart program that contrasts the two symphonies in G minor, No. 25 and No. 40, works separated by 15 years, yet worlds apart (August 13 _14).
The music of J.S. Bach pervades festival programs, shedding light on Mozart's achievements and the far-reaching influence of the towering figure of the late Baroque. Mozart first encountered Bach's music in 1782 at Sunday matinee gatherings that were organized by the Baron Gottfried van Swieten (who would later provide the text for Haydn's The Creation and The Seasons), and about which the 26-year-old composer reported "nothing is played but Handel and Bach." As the baron's keyboard player, Mozart made arrangements of fugues from Bach's Well-tempered Clavier for string ensemble. The Emerson String Quartet performs five of these fascinating style studies on an all-Mozart program that includes two masterworks, the "Dissonance" Quartet and the Clarinet Quintet, with clarinetist David Shifrin (August 16). Langr_e and the Festival orchestra extend the perspective to the 20th century with Anton Webern's highly reductive arrangement of Bach's intensely contrapuntal Ricercare (six-voice fugue) from The Musical Offering (July 30 _31): in which shifting instrumental colors form a sonic kaleidoscope, a fusion somehow more than even the sum of Bach and Webern.
Artist-in-residence Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the brilliant pianist and probing intellect, makes Bach and Polyphonies the focus of a series of wide-ranging concerts that juxtapose such works as Bach's motet Jesu, meine Freude with Gy‹gy Ligeti's otherworldly Lux aeterna, a veritable soundscape for sixteen solo voices (it was one of several works used by Stanley Kubrick in his 2001: A Space Odyssey), and contrasted with the largely unknown repertoire of chant and vocal polyphony of the Georgian Orthodox liturgical and folk tradition (August 13). For this program, the Ensemble Basiani, an all-male group that serves as the choir of the Patriarchate of Georgia in the Orthodox Cathedral of Tbilisi and is making its North American debut, is joined by Ars Nova Copenhagen, directed by Paul Hillier. The subject receives further consideration from Aimard with members of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in a late-night program of Bach, Ligeti, and Elliott Carter, who at 101, is the senior dean of American composers. For a concert at the Rose Theater in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex, the International Contemporary Ensemble: the hip New York-Chicago collective of young musicians known for persuasive advocacy of new music: with conductor Ludovic Morlot, take Bach and Henry Purcell as a point of departure, encompassing present-day composers George Benjamin and Helmut Lachenmann (August 16).
The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Deutsche Kammer-philharmonie Bremen, and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra present repertoire from the 18th through the 20th centuries in the vivid sound of the transformed Alice Tully Hall. "Having the best chamber orchestras and period instrument ensembles at Mostly Mozart is enriching as well as stimulating," says Louis Langr_e. Here, listeners can enjoy both." And for the first time, audiences returning to Mostly Mozart will have the opportunity to see Mark Morris's L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato in the marvelously renovated David H. Koch Theater (August 5 _7). Morris's dance piece, described as "a masterpiece of craft, invention, and feeling," is set to the Handel oratorio of the same title and draws inspiration from sources that include the striking watercolors by William Blake. The joyous work for 24 dancers, vocal soloists, choir, and the Orchestra, conducted by Jane Glover, will sound: and look: new amid the splendid acoustics now afforded by the auditorium.
As Mostly Mozart continues to evolve, it does so with an ease and grace wholly befitting its namesake. Langr_e remarks, "I hope that people who love Mostly Mozart identify with it and feel that it's their festival, and, at the same time, that as a major institution, it fosters an opportunity for experimentation. This is very exciting. There is so much variety of music, including contemporary music, and such diversity of programs and performers, but at the center is Mozart, 'le fond et la forme.' He remains the core, the substance around which all revolves: which is absolutely, Mostly Mozart."
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