Last year's Mostly Mozart Festival was Louis Langrée's first as the new music director, and from his first downbeat on opening night, his performances seemed to echo his effervescent personality; his presence left audiences enchanted and eager to hear more. Of this year's Festival, which runs from July 29 to August 28, Lincoln Center's vice-president of programming, Jane Moss, says, "I'm particularly excited about it because this is the first in which Louis has been involved in the programming, and therefore it reveals his impact more fully." Indeed, she feels strongly that their collaboration has resulted in a "genuinely entwined vision, a joining of ideas" in which tradition and innovation will provide audiences with some of the most stimulating programs and formats in Mostly Mozart's history.
One of the most visible innovations is the launching of a new series, A Little Night Music‹five late-night concerts in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, each starting at 10:30 p.m. and lasting an hour. This inaugural season, most of the concerts will focus on the music of J. S. Bach: the three on August 10 to 12 feature the engaging English cellist Peter Wispelwey in his traversal of Bach's complete Suites for Solo Cello; another, on August 17, features the violinist Christian Tetzlaff playing Bach's partitas and sonatas for solo violin. Violist Tabea Zimmermann will join Tetzlaff on August 18 for two Mozart duets. As all three Night Music performers are also soloists in the main orchestra concerts, there should be a lively synergy between the evening and late-night offerings. "We want to present these concerts in a non-traditional way," says Moss. "There'll be an informal ambiance with tables and chairs instead of conventional seating, and refreshments, so you can grab a glass of wine for listening." And given the Penthouse's superb views of the Hudson and the skyline, starlight and city lights promise a matchless backdrop for the music.
Having presented its first fully staged Mozart opera last season, the festival will continue this initiative with three fully staged performances of the wry comedy of manners and love, Così fan tutte (August 10, 12, and 14). Bernard Labadie conducts the ensemble Les Violons du Roy and a cast that includes Susan Gritton and Krisztina Szabó as the two lovestruck sisters, opposite Gordon Gietz and Nathan Gunn as their two lovers who reveal the girls' amatory feet of clay. Jonathan Miller directs the production with characteristic insight and iconoclasm.
Like Mozart's operas, the composer's concert arias have long interested Maestro Langrée, who likens them to the last frontier in Mozart programming. "Everyone knows they are great," he says, "but because they are not very often performed, few audiences really know them in depth." Therefore he is not only including several of the finest on the Opening Night Galas (August 3-4), sung by Magdalena Kozená in her Festival debut, but he and Moss are bringing over the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie's production of Mozart/Concert Arias, un moto di gioia (1992), an eye-opening interpretation by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, which entwines a diadem of these jewel-like vocal works with dance. This production (August 25, 27, and 28) creates visual relationships between the music, movement, and meanings of the texts. Dance lovers will also be able to indulge their fancy with performances by the Mark Morris Dance Group (August 19 and 21).
The ever-popular Robert Kapilow returns to the Festival with "What Makes It Great?" on July 30. Known for his blend of performance and probing commentary, he joins the Festival Orchestra in a closer look at Mozart's Jupiter Symphony. On August 21 he will host and conduct a family event featuring Saint-Saëns' evergreen Carnival of the Animals and Kapilow's own piece, And Furthermore They Bite!
Adept at conducting period-instrument ensembles as well as modern orchestras, Maestro Langrée has slated three concerts highlighting historical performance by two preeminent ensembles in this provocative field. On August 5 Gottfried von der Goltz directs the celebrated Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in works by J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, and Jan Zelenka, with cellist Kristin von der Goltz. Festival audiences will also have the chance to hear the complete Brandenburg Concertos in two concerts performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with the Gramophone Award-winning violinist Rachel Podger as soloist and conductor (August 7 and 8).
For those who not only like historic instruments but historic performers as well, the festival is starting a new series of Mozart-related and music-related film programs. On August 16 and 23 Music on Film: Great Pianists Play Mozart will be screened at the Walter Reade Theater.
Among the Festival Orchestra concerts Langrée will conduct is an August 20-21 program that will emphasize the influence of Gypsy and Eastern music on European composers, including Mozart's scintillating overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Ravel's Tzigane, and Kodály's Dances of Galánta. Joshua Bell will be the soloist. Other headliner guests this season include pianists Garrick Ohlsson (August 24-25) and Emanuel Ax (August 19), tenor Christoph Prégardien in a Lieder recital (August 26), conductor and pianist Christian Zacharias (August 10-11), and the Leipzig String Quartet.
Beyond Gypsy music, world music is also an area that has engaged Langrée's mind and heart, especially the spiritual connections he and Moss have observed between this vast and limitlessly colorful repertoire and Western art music. "Every culture has its music for every important moment in life," he says, "music for rituals‹birth, marriage, death. And I think it is extremely important that the more we can share, the richer we all are for the experience." To that end, the first of two closing performances of the Mozart Requiem (August 27) will be preceded by Persian and Indian improvisations on the sitar, kamancheh, and tabla, played and sung by Kayhan Kalhor, Shujaat Husain Khan, and Sandeep Das of the ensemble Ghazal. Explaining the essential connection that he feels between the quite unfamiliar improvisations and Mozart's familiar swan song, Langrée observes, "Mozart didn't complete his requiem setting, and in Süssmayr's completion, the open fifths at the end of the Requiem leave a sense of openness that seems to transcend death. Similarly, this Persian and Indian music conveys the same feeling of mystery and eternity; it has the power to express fundamental strength through a delicate musical language that is portentous without being merely pompous."
Yet for all the Festival's variety, the heart of Langrée's artistic vision is his belief in strengthening the thematic underpinning of Mostly Mozart as a whole. It is not just a random series of August concerts and events linked by an 8 p.m. curtain and, by the way, Mozart. Rather, working together, Langrée and Moss wish to forge, as she phrases it, "a far deeper, multi-dimensional, multilayered, ongoing exploration centered on a remarkable composer and all that he represented, the music and composers that influenced him, and those he inspired."
Barrymore Laurence Scherer writes frequently about the arts.