The summer is flying by, but there are still festivals of all stripes taking place throughout the month of August. Case in point: the 46th annual Mostly Mozart Festival, which kicks off tonight at Avery Fisher Hall with the Festival Orchestra playing an all-Mozart program under Louis Langrée, who is celebrating his 10th year as music director. Included on the program is Mozart's 20th piano concerto performed by Nelson Freire, who just played it with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood on Friday.
For those who may have missed it, I wrote the Playbill preview for this year's Mostly Mozart, which explored several of the themes threaded throughout the four-week festival. One of the main themes is birds: from the Janet Cardiff/George Burress sound installation “The Murder of Crows” at the Park Avenue Armory (August 3 – September 9), to bird-inspired music such as Jonathan Harvey’s "Bird Concerto with Pianosong," and Olivier Messiaen’s "Oiseaux Exotiques." There will even be four afternoon bird walks in Central Park, led by Peter Joost of the Audubon Society.
“I think it would be fantastic to take a bird walk, and then go to a concert,” Festival Director Jane Moss told me, “to somehow have those two experiences linked in your brain, even if there isn’t a direct musical connection. Mostly Mozart, after all, is a summer festival, and Central Park is a neighbor of Lincoln Center’s.”
As anyone who's attended Mostly Mozart in the past few seasons can attest, Jane and Louis have revitalized this once-moribund festival by juxtaposing the music of Mozart and his contemporaries with music of the 20th century, and beyond.
“By placing Mozart in these different contexts," Jane says, "you realize that all of this music from the past is actually very present. You see that Mozart was as revolutionary as John Cage is today.”
Speaking of Cage, one program not-to-be-missed is ICE's performance at the Park Avenue Armory, (8/12) during which they will perform site-specific works in the period rooms, including Cage's “Telephone and Birds” for clarinet, violin and piano and electronically recorded birds. (You can hear ICE director Claire Chase speaking with Jane about it on the MM website.)
“I’m not really sure what to expect,” says Moss.
Other highlights of this year's festival include Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting both the Festival Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (8/3-5), Susanna Mälkki leading Schubert/Berio's Rendering (which I first heard in Venice in 2007), and Mark Morris conducting a hybrid dance/opera version of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (8/22-25), with Stephanie Blythe in the title role. Several performances are already sold out, but many others are still available at the box office or online.
“The one thing I hope people will take away from this year’s Festival,” says Jane, “is that Mozart feels very, very alive. That he is a vital composer, not some historical artifact. In other words, that you hear Mozart through the Messiaen and see they occupy the same musical universe. That is my hope.”