The Mostly Mozart Festival continued this past Sunday with a pair of concerts not necessarily intended to go together, but doable as a double, at least for those with comfortable shoes. First up was the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, returning to Alice Tully Hall for their second of two concerts last week; the first was an all-Beethoven affair on Thursday. Often cited as the best chamber orchestra in the world, the COE - which is self-governing - is comprised of some of Europe's finest players, most of whom have separate careers as soloists, orchestra principals, and chamber musicians.
With the young Québécois Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium - himself a rising star of the orchestra world - they launched into Mozart's Don Giovanni Overture. Conducting from memory, Nézet-Séguin was powerful and dynamic, the orchestra crisp and clear. Lisa Batiashvili and Francois Leleux, both of whom were also featured on Thursday's concert, made easy work of Bach's Concerto for violin and oboe in C minor: a pretty little piece that would go well with some dinner, if nothing else. It was charming to watch Nézet-Séguin dance with Batiashvili and Leleux, like some kind of slow-mo ballet. And, the COE was absurdly good, showing absolutely no seams in their playing. For their encore, Leleux said he would let us figure out what it was before stepping with Batiashvili into the "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's Magic Flute, accompanied by oohs and aahs from the audience.
After a brisk walk down Broadway, I found myself in the Rose Theater for the first of the International Contempoary Ensemble's four Mostly Mozart concerts as Artists-in-Residence. Led by Ensemble Intercontemporain director Susanna Malkki, who I last saw here at Mostly Mozart in 2008, the program was not even close to Mozart: it was, in fact, 100% contemporary. But, it did play up on this year's central theme of birds, bookended with two bird-laden pieces by Messiaen: the fragment Piece for piano and string quartet (1991) and Oiseaux exotiques (Exotic Birds, 1956). On these and on Luca Francesconi's Islands (1992), ICE was joined by the British pianist Nicolas Hodges, who banged out the spiky, intricate music with ease. Unfortunately, it was all a bit jarring after the earlier Bach and Mendelssohn - particularly the Francesconi, which was full of brutal percussion and extreme disssonances just this side of noise.
Jukka Tiensuu's nemo (1997) started out with the same sonic chaos, but soon settled down with a mix of recorded birds, whales and electronic sounds, projected via speakers around the hall's perimeter. The players echoed the animals with both instrumental figures and vocalise, as if they, too, wanted to join in the chorus.
ICE will be back in action later this week with three more concerts, including a late night concert tomorrow at the Kaplan Penthouse, a Saturday night program at Alice Tully, and the collection of site-specific works at the Park Avenue Armory on Sunday. Tickets for all concerts (with the exception of the Armory show) are available at the box office or online.
More pics on the photo page.