A Look At: Mostly Mozart 2009

Classic Arts Features   A Look At: Mostly Mozart 2009
The 43rd Mostly Mozart Festival kicked off July 28. The Fest will range from the classical to the contemporary. Audiences will have their pick of any number of orchestral concerts, chamber music and solo recitals, operatic and dance events, late-night concerts, film premieres and lecture-discussions.

This age of constant media twittering and cratered attention spans can feel inimical to the deeper experience and enjoyment of music, or any other art. Retuning our internal antenna to something more contemplative often demands fresh settings, unexpected juxtapositions: the sound of surprise.

Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival has developed a virtuoso knack for reinvigoration. Long a New York summer institution on par with Shakespeare in the Park, Mostly Mozart has become a highlight of the calendar, regardless of season. The festival sets Mozart alongside his predecessors and successors, so the composer serves as a prism by which to see both the past and the present more vividly.

"Programs and settings that go beyond the usual pique people's attention, so they can get into that receptive space: which can be a challenge for anyone," Moss says. "When people are in an intimate, candlelit room, as they are for our late-night concerts, they get still and listen in a closer way. And if you put Yo-Yo Ma in the pit for a Mark Morris dance performance, as we will, the audience will experience the dance and the music differently."

Mostly Mozart's "A Little Night Music" series: 10:30 p.m. concerts in a cabaret setting at the 200-capacity Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse: has become a sold-out attraction. This year's late-night performers include pianists Piotr Anderszewski, Stefan Vladar and Simone Dinnerstein (playing Bach's Goldberg Variations), as well as the Borromeo String Quartet.

Choreographer Mark Morris will premiere two Lincoln Center commissions August 19 _22 featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax. The pieces, as yet untitled, are set to the music of Beethoven and Ives. The program will also include V, a Schumann-scored dance reprised from Mostly Mozart 2003.

Creating a lens on Mostly Mozart through new music has become essential, with past festivals featuring residency relationships with composers Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, and Magnus Lindberg (whose Violin Concerto, a Mostly Mozart commission for 2006, has gone on to acclaim). This summer's artist focus is American composer John Adams. His color-rich opera A Flowering Tree: his sixth theatrical pairing with librettist-director Peter Sellars and one with thematic ties to Mozart's Magic Flute: will make its New York premiere August 13 _14 and 16. Along with Indonesian dancers and costumes, the festival's production features a young American cast, the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela choir and Orchestra of St. Luke's, with Adams conducting. On August 17, he will conduct the International Contemporary Ensemble in an all _Adams program that includes his orchestral classic Shaker Loops and the clarinet concerto Gnarly Buttons, with its original soloist, Michael Collins.

Ideal for Mostly Mozart, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is a musician who performs the classic as if it were modern and the modern as if it were classic. His Alice Tully Hall concerts on August 9 and 10 will juxtapose Mozart and Haydn with Ligeti and Stockhausen. He will solo at the keyboard and conduct the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, helping mark its 50th year.

Louis Langr_e, music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, points out that audiences in Mozart's day always expected the new: "We should remember that Mozart was a modernist. If you hear Mozart alongside Magnus Lindberg or Mozart and then Ligeti, you don't experience either composer's music the same way as if it were alone; this tunes the ear to the timelessness in both, for the musicians and the audience."

As for Mozart's predecessors, this festival has a special focus on Joseph Haydn, marking the bicentennial of the composer's death with his symphonies, chamber pieces and vocal works. Haydn and Mozart were friends, and they played chamber music together. Famously, Haydn told Mozart's father that the younger artist was "the greatest composer known to me in person or by name." In turn, Mozart dedicated his six "Haydn Quartets" to the composer he called "Papa."

Haydn's oratorio The Creation is one of Langr_e's favorite works: he conducted it in 2003, his first year with The Mostly Mozart Festival. He recalls the first time he heard the piece: "The 'Chaos' movement was unbelievable to me. I couldn't believe it was by Haydn or by any composer: it seemed more like a mystic phenomenon."

The festival-capping performances of The Creation in Avery Fisher Hall, on August 21 _22, will feature the top-flight vocal soloists Carolyn Sampson, Matthew Polenzani, and Peter Rose. Langr_e is excited to "hear how different it will sound this year," he says. "The energy in the orchestra was fantastic the first year, but I think we go deeper into the music we play with every festival. Our palette of shape and color is much bigger now."

The special shades of period-instrument groups are a relative rarity in America, so Mostly Mozart does an invaluable service by bringing over the best period groups from Europe. Audiences can hear the revelation of early music on gut-strung fiddles, natural horns, and kettledrums. Among the most virtuoso of period ensembles, the UK's Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment returns on August 16, with up-and-coming British conductor Robin Ticciati along to make his American debut. The program will feature fortepiano specialist Robert Levin in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, K. 482.

Another top young conductor, French Canadian Yannick N_zet-S_guin: Valery Gergiev's hand-picked successor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra: will also be making his New York debut at the festival. On August 4 _5, he leads the Mostly Mozart Orchestra in Stravinsky, Mozart and Mendelssohn. The last composer has an anniversary this year, too, the 200th of his birth. Joshua Bell will perform Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with Langr_e and the Mostly Mozart ensemble on August 11 _12.

Along with the connections between Haydn and Mozart and between The Magic Flute and A Flowering Tree, the festival features films tied to events. There will be U.S. premieres for Bruno Monsaingeon's Unquiet Traveller about Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski and, introduced by Sellars, Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa. Moss says that Mostly Mozart can often feel like "the six degrees of separation festival, with Mozart at the center: we should make a chart of the Festival's connections.That's what makes things fun: we don't just play Mozart, we play with Mozart."

Bradley Bambarger writes frequently about classical and popular music.

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