A Mighty Kickoff to This Year’s Mostly Mozart Festival

by delarue

How do you advertise art? Let the public experience it. If it’s good, it sells itself. No doubt a whole lot of tickets to this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival were sold after Friday night’s performance of the G major Violin Concerto and then the “Jupiter” Symphony at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra‘s musical director, Louis Langrée, reminded the audience that eighty degrees is the cutoff point for many European orchestras playing outdoor shows. The mercury here was closer to twenty degrees higher, but the ensemble soldiered on, after being a given a fervently appreciative shout from their maestro. Within the confines of the bandshell at the back of the park, they didn’t have the benefit of the wind gusting through the rest of the Lincoln Center complex.

As demanding as this music is to play under normal circumstances, with its endless volleys of eighth notes, the challenge takes on a whole new dimension under such trying circumstances. That the orchestra would play so robustly, and with such attention to detail, testifies to their collective spirit. Although the ensemble is only active in the summer for this annual festival, it’s more than just a pickup group – there are a lot of returning members, and their camaraderie was contagious. Nineteen-year-old prodigy Simone Porter joined them as the soloist for the concerto, bringing a strikingly searching intensity and a warily modulated tone, particularly in the second movement. That’s where the piece deviates from being comfortably bubbly wine-hour music for the Viennese one-percenters for whom it was written, and she seized on those moments with an apt tinge of angst. She’s an old soul.

At least in New York, the “Jupiter” Symphony surprisingly doesn’t get programmed as frequently as you might think. Although there’s no telling what a new conductor will do for the New York Philharmonic, year after year it’s Brahms who ends up at the top of the charts, at least as far as concert halls are concerned. So this was a chance to get up close and personal with an old standby: those among us (guess who) willing to date ourselves as having grown up with WQXR wafting gently from the family stereo speakers can vouch for that familiarity.

What stood out during this performance? Dynamics: for those who eschewed the long line to to get in to the rows of seats, at the rear of the park it was actually hard to hear the quietest moments, even with amplification, because the sound diminished to a literal whisper. Which set up a mighty contrast with the symphony’s titanic swells, to match the gusts of hot wind blowing on the crowd like vacuum cleaner exhaust.

That, and a playfully slithery bassoon cadenza that seemingly appeared out of nowhere during the third movement. Admittedly, the only other person who seized on that particular moment was probably the individual who played it, but Mozart provides hundreds if not thousands of those. Despite its heft, it’s not a particularly heavy piece of music, yet there’s no question how much fun the composer had writing it. Langrée and the orchestra reprise their performance of it on August 9 and 10 at 7:30 PM at Avery Fisher Hall; pianist Richard Goode performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A to open the night. $35 seats are still available as of today.