Journeys of Genius

Classic Arts Features   Journeys of Genius
This summer's Mostly Mozart Festival follows Mozart's footsteps around the world.

Although he is most closely associated with his birthplace, Salzburg, Wolfgang Mozart traveled widely throughout Europe. From an early age, the prodigy's astonishing musical talent was displayed by the Mozart family in both Paris and London; as a teenager, the composer went to Italy; and near the end of his too-brief life, he visited Prague several times.

Of course, not only did Mozart the man travel: so did his music and, later, his influence. So this summer, the 39th edition of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival (July 28-August 27), Arrivals and Departures: Traveling with Mozart, concentrates on the composer's physical journeys, along with his compositions and influences on other composers.

"It's really Mozart's travels through time, I would say," explains Lincoln Center's Vice President for Programming, Jane S. Moss. "This is not intended to be a complete picture of his travels, but of the destinations of those travels. It's an idea that has interested the Festival's Music Director, Louis Langrée, for quite a while, and we took the idea and ran with it."

Maestro Langrée opens the Festival on July 28 by leading soprano Renée Fleming, pianist Stephen Hough, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in a performance to be telecast on Live From Lincoln Center. The program is designed to evoke a concert one might have heard in Mozart's time.

Visiting, through his music, the different places of Mozart's travels surely adds a further dimension to our understanding of their importance to his musical development, but Moss sees an added benefit. "We're looking at these cities not only in how they relate to Mozart, but also to give audience members a sense of each city's musical personality," she notes.

The "Paris" concerts include an August 5-6 Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra (MMFO) program led by Langrée, juxtaposing Mozart's "Paris" Symphony (No. 31) and Concerto for Flute and Harp (soloists Sir James Galway and Catrin Finch) with works by Maurice Ravel more than a century later: the G major Piano Concerto (soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet) and Mother Goose suite.

In addition, harpsichordist and conductor Emmanuelle Haïm and her baroque ensemble Concert d'Astrée make their U.S. debut August 7 in a program of works by Handel and Rameau. "Haïm is causing quite a stir in the period-instrument world," says Moss, "and her group is a notable debut for us."

The "Prague" concerts begin with another MMFO program, August 9-10, as Tomas Hanus, in his U.S. debut, conducts Mozart's "Prague" Symphony and the overture to Don Giovanni (which premiered in Prague in 1787); Louie Lortie is soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25; and soprano Mireille Delunsch performs the concert aria "Bella mia fiamma...Resta, o cara," which was composed for the Czech soprano Josefa Duschek. Also on August 9-10, the Tokyo String Quartet plays works by Mozart and Czech composers Dvorák and Smetana.

The "London" concerts begin August 11 with a performance on original instruments by Paul McCreesh's Gabrieli Consort of Mozart's very first Symphony‹which he composed while staying there at the age of eight‹and continues August 12-13 with an MMFO performance of one of Haydn's "London" Symphonies‹his 104th and last symphonic work‹conducted by Maestro Langrée. Returning to the Festival, August 18-20, is the Mark Morris Dance Group, which will reprise its masterpiece production of Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, with poems by Englishman John Milton.

"They've become a resident company for us and we're looking forward to working with them even more frequently," says Moss of the Mark Morris Dance Group.

"Italy" is featured August 14 and 15 as the period-instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra performs two programs. During the first, soprano Sandrine Piau sings "Exsultate, jubilate" along with arias from Mitridate and Lucio Silla, two operas closely associated with Mozart's journeys to Italy as a teenager. And for the second, Petra Müllejans leads Mozart's Symphonies in F major (No. 13) and A major (No. 29), along with his E-flat major Piano Concerto (No. 9), played by soloist Jos van Immerseel in his Mostly Mozart debut.

Although Mozart never visited Russia, Moss and Langrée wanted its inclusion in this summer's "travel" schedule for several reasons. "We've been eager to do a Russian-themed program, and this ties into the travel theme‹a sort of time travel," Moss says. "We wanted to juxtapose indigenous musical expression with similar themes that Mozart addressed.

"In the case of the Russian Patriarche Choir of Moscow (making its U.S. debut at the Festival), both halves of its August 26 concert are dedicated to spiritual expression," Moss continues. "The first half is ancient Russian liturgical chant; the second is Mozart's Mass in C, in which the choir sings. It spans two ideas: Russia and different kinds of musical expression." Another "Russia" program will feature Joshua Bell in a performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (August 16-17).

Of course, Moss wants to ensure that the Festival includes music that doesn't fit into a particular summer's theme. For example, soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson will give three semi-staged performances of director Peter Sellars' Bach Cantatas, the Festival's first presentation in the new Rose Theater. "Not absolutely every event will fit the theme that's a focus for that summer," Moss says. "We've moved backwards in time, focusing on baroque and classical presentations including period-instrument concerts, creating a core focus: inside that are several sub-themes."

Included in that extensive programming are the film series Great Violinists of the Twentieth Century on Film, with programs of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven (August 15 and 22), and an expansion to nine concerts of the popular late-night series, A Little Night Music, which premiered last summer.

"They are a huge hit and a remarkable experience," Moss exclaims. "Everything about them feels very special: it's like having Emanuel Ax in your living room." Indeed, Ax performs in the series this season on August 2 (solo) and August 3 (with soprano Emma Bell). Other artists include pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet on August 5 and Garrick Ohlsson on August 12-13, and harpsichordist Emmanuelle Haïm on August 6.

Moss believes that Mostly Mozart is approaching middle age freshly invigorated. "Louis and I are very committed to the idea of a festival that's not just a collection of hot-weather concerts at 8 o'clock with air-conditioning," she says. "We're always exploring new programming."

Although Langrée's arrival two years ago was certainly a catalyst, Moss gives much of the credit to the great composer himself. "Ultimately, what's so astonishing about Mostly Mozart is Mozart. There's no other composer you could build a festival around year after year: not only his own music, but those he touched and those who touched him. It's an endless, extraordinary exploration."

So what can we look forward to in 2006, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth? Preferring to bask in this summer's Festival, Moss says simply: "Details to follow."

Kevin Filipski is a frequent contributor to Playbill.

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