For most New Yorkers, this fantasy would also involve inhabiting a bigger apartment: spacious enough for a grand piano and a large cadre of friends. But the good news is you don't have to move or win the lottery for such an experience. The Little Night Music series at the Mostly Mozart Festival has, for the past decade, presented stellar classical artists in the intimate Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, perched high above the Lincoln Center campus with a panoramic view of the Hudson River skyline. These late-night chamber music performances, this year beginning at 10 p.m., feature cabaret-style seating at small tables, complete with candlelight and complimentary wine.
A Little Night Music was developed to show off the stars, both of the night sky as well as those on the classical music trajectory. The title is the English translation of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, his beloved chamber work for strings. "At Mostly Mozart, we are always looking for interesting and different approaches with our presentations," says Hanako Yamaguchi, Director of Music Programming. "We launched A Little Night Music in 2004 to create a casual, romantic setting to hear amazing masterpieces up close and personal." Luminaries who have performed in addition to Emanuel Ax include fellow pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; violinists Lisa Batiashvili, Christian Tetzlaff, and Gidon Kremer; cellists Pieter Wispelwey and Alisa Weilerstein; and the Takšcs and Tokyo String Quartets. The artists often take time to speak to the audience, a definite perk over a large concert hall.
Critics and audiences alike were won over by the uniqueness of the setting. Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times wrote in 2007, "the Penthouse is the closest New York has to an inviting nightclub for classical music." The same summer, Alex Ross offered praise in the New Yorker, "The subtlest nuances of dynamics registered across the room." Since then, other programs in the city have attempted to launch their own classical cabaret series, inspired by A Little Night Music's success.
And like the rest of the Mostly Mozart Festival, the works of Wolfgang Amadeus are only a jumping off point for the diversity of repertoire performed. In the series' inaugural season, works of Paul Hindemith and Zoltšn Kodšly were heard alongside Beethoven's final piano sonata. Other evenings have combined Scriabin and Ravel with Bach, or Shostakovich with Mozart. Such juxtapositions are common during Mostly Mozart, as Ehrenkranz Artistic Director Jane Moss encourages audiences to think of classical masterpieces as fresh and contemporary with each hearing.
Now in its tenth season, this summer A Little Night Music comprises six concerts, two featuring Mostly Mozart Festival debuts.
Paul Lewis returns to the series with one of Schubert's last sonatas, D.959 in A major, on August 7, as the British pianist completes a two-year period performing all of Schubert's mature piano works (enough to fill four CDs on forthcoming releases). As with several other Kaplan Penthouse soloists, Lewis will also join the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in a pair of concerts, this time performing Mozart's regal Piano Concerto No. 25.
If piano music is your passion, there are two more chances this season to receive a latenight immersion: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet will perform the second book of Pr_ludes by his compatriot Debussy on July 31, adding a bit of French romance to an already dreamlike setting. Bavouzet, who performed Bart‹k's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra last summer, was named Artist of the Year at the 2012 International Classical Music Awards. Keyboard enthusiasts should also be sure to catch Francesco Piemontesi at the Kaplan Penthouse in his Mostly Mozart debut on August 22, when he'll perform Mozart's Sonata in F major and Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by G.F. Handel. Piemontesi, a 30-year-old Swiss prot_g_ of Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia, was named Best Newcomer of 2012 at the BBC Music Magazine Awards.
In the series' tradition of offering resonant solo string works, violinist Isabelle Faust will present an all-Bach program, featuring Sonata No. 3 in C major and Partita No. 2 in D minor, on August 10. This Grammy-nominated German violinist last appeared at A Little Night Music in 2010, and she will perform Mozart's "Turkish" Violin Concerto this summer with the Festival Orchestra.
Two superlative string quartets round out the lineup for late-nights this summer. The Leipzig String Quartet returns to Mostly Mozart after a six-year hiatus, with a classicist's dream of a program on August 6: Mozart's Quartet in D major and Beethoven's "Serioso" Quartet in F minor. The ensemble formed from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, creating a more intimate group perfect for this intimate space. And in its Mostly Mozart debut, California's Calder Quartet also presents Beethoven (this summer's Festival focus), his Csharp minor Quartet, Op. 131, on August 3. The 1826 work will be paired with Arcadiana by contemporary composer Thomas Ads, with whom the Calder works closely. Quite appropriately for A Little Night Music, Arcadiana was partially inspired by Mozart's kingdom of the night from Die Zauberfl‹te.
The Mostly Mozart Festival, constantly redefining the classical music experience, proves that Broadway isn't the only place where you can experience the power of the "music of the night."
Ann Crews Melton is a Programming Publications Editor for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and a writer and editor who lives in New York.