Mostly Mozzzzzzzart

The Mostly Mozart Festival! More like Mostly Doze-art, amirite? Sorry, that’s cruel, but neither was I convinced by this Times piece about how Lincoln Center’s July/August celebration of the familiar is innovative now because they have a small new music series in a tiny theater. It’s easy enough to get a hundred or so people to come over from Roulette, call me when they put their money where their mouth is, that is, change the central, large-scale program. Because the main theater is again hosting programs of mostly Mozart, along with a celebration of a composer who is, compared to Mozart, unusual and underrated. You know. Beethoven.

Also, call me when I can get a ticket to the David Lang piece in the tiny theater. Because that thing is seriously sold out. So I ended up in Avery Fisher Hall for the opening program of Mozart. And Beethoven. This concert was seriously not sold out. Tons of empty seats. Draw your own conclusions.

On the other hand, if this is an improvement, how somnolent did it used to be? Geez. Because, to be honest, this concert was mediocre. (When your programming is this bland, so-so performances don’t even have the virtue of novelty.)

The Festival Orchestra, as conducted by Louis Langrée has a decent, warm sound and plays with energy. But in this concert they skated over the surface of the textures. The strings seem unable to produce a crisp, sharp attack, and there were places, particularly in the opening Coriolan Overture, where a good deal more weight and darkness would have helped. Perhaps this is in part the Avery Fisher acoustic, but it all sounded rather soft focus. This proved particularly fatal in the many repeated sequences found in Beethoven’s development sections. There was no tension or shift of dynamics, it was like jogging on a treadmill. You’re working away, but you aren’t going anywhere.

The Mozart portion of the concert was supplied by Alice Coote, who sang “Ch’io mi scordi di te” and “Parto, parto.” She was the best thing about spring’s Giulio Cesare at the Met, but her full, rather thick mezzo seemed a little out of place here. While the orchestra was breezy, Coote is unwaveringly intense, which can be disconcerting when dealing with two brief concert arias rather than a whole opera. To my taste, she made a few too many sacrifices of elegance and clarity of line for the sake of dramatic emphasis. While exclamations like “Stelle barbare” and “Perché!!!” had focus, a little more bravura and flair would have been welcome.

The rest of the program was Beethoven. I’m not a good judge of pianists, so I’m not going to say a lot about Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4 and the piano part in “Ch’io mi scordi,” but I wasn’t all that impressed. He’s got a crisp sound that matches the orchestra, but his middle-range playing rarely projected to my rear orchestra seat, with muddy passagework in all except the highest registers. The phrasing in the second movement was more graceful. The program closed with the audience-pleasing Symphony No. 7, which seems to be on every program ever. This account was fine but not anything special–fleet and light, but lacking in rhythmic Schwung.

Some of the rest of the festival looks more promising: I hope to catch the Rossini Stabat Mater with Noseda and the awesome Daniela Barcellona, and the highlight will surely be the Figaro with the fab Budapest Festival Orchestra and a promising cast. Let’s hope it improves.

Meanwhile, I’ve come up with some ideas for improvements on Mostly Mozart:
Almost Mozart: music from the late 18th century by everyone except Mozart
You Think You Know Mozart?: music Mozart wrote before the age of 13. don’t make this annual.
Mostly Nope-Zart: concerts that are 90% very loud and non-gentle music
On Twitter, LJC suggests the additions of Staggeringly Stamitz and Drastically Dittersdorf. Sure sell-outs! Add your own in the comments if you like.

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  1. How about "Masonic Mozart"? It would at least have the virtue of some great, obscure music, including a lot of choral stuff. And yes, the usual MM festival programs I see listed in "The New Yorker" do not make me want to jump on a plane from the West Coast to hear them. In fact, they wouldn't even make me want to take a subway in Manhattan to do so.

  2. 'Holistic Haydn': i.e., all the symphonies and/or string quartets, take or leave the masses. This would be a variation on Mark Berry's call for Barenboim to do all the Mozart Piano Concerti at next year's Proms. Synergy! Also, City Opera could program all the Haydn operas through the year. It wouldn't cost them more money than they're spending already; they could use the same sets as for all the others in the 'season'.

  3. Given it's an anniversary year we could have "Wholly Hindemith" but if we have to stick with late 18th century how about "Rabidly Rameau" or "Savouring Salieri"

  4. What lazy programming, especially that closing night. A shame because I think their are lots of nice possibilities that would allow them to retain the cheesy title. Didn't notice any masses or serenades (aside from that one). Feels more like an insult than a blessing for Mozart enthusiasts.