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Mostly Mozart

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra                                                          Photos by: Jennifer Taylor

 by Deirdre Donovan

 Your playbill might read “Mostly Mozart,” but Beethoven and Haydn had the last word in this August 2nd program.

 Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival is one of those New York traditions that no New Yorker should do without.  Not only does it pay homage to its namesake, it offers a rich smorgasbord of works from other classical luminaries in the elegant setting of Avery Fisher Hall.  On the evening I attended, Beethoven and Haydn were featured on the program.  And with Maestro Andrew Manze conducting, each masterwork gained new definition under his confident baton. 

Andrew Manze

First up was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (1809), dubbed “Emperor” as a nod to Austria’s archdukes and perhaps a puff to Beethoven’s desire to being inscribed as one of the classical aristocracy.  However you view it, Beethoven was at the top of his game here.  Unlike Mozart, who prolifically spun out one concerto after another, Beethoven labored to no end over his.  Resuscitating his farewell to the form, Manze relied on the acclaimed Mostly Mozart Orchestra artists, an able corps of musicians on the violins, woodwinds, percussion, and brass.  With pianist Steven Osborne making his festival debut, it was a knockout performance.  Yes, each artist held his (or her) own on their instruments.  But Osborne is a born stage-taker.  A true virtuoso, he was riveting to watch as he leaned into the ivories and then nearly levitated himself off the piano bench with the force of the martial music.  Osborne didn’t simply play his Beethoven, he performed it.  He totally disappeared into the music, allowing the audience to experience Beethoven’s signature work as if the master had just scored its notes and the ink was still drying.  Of course, the “Emperor” concerto demands the entire orchestra to plumb its motifs and modulations.  And when one listened closely to each rocketing bar being sounded on the sonic stage, Beethoven’s heroic quality came through.  The classical material was so intensely-charged, in fact, that it was almost impossible not to hum, tap, or sway with its syncopated rhythms, smooth cadences, and spirited cadenza (that showed the agile-fingered Osborne at his best).  Beethoven might not have been to the concerto born, but he surely gave birth to a musical gem with this regal-sounding work that captures the battlefield and beyond.

 On the heels of the “Emperor’ came Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D major (1795) or the “London.”  It was Haydn’s last symphony, but the master was bent on making it an ace.  It misleadingly starts out with a nostalgic sound but then ratchets up to a roar at mid-movement.  This steamrolling crescendo then fades out but the rest of the movements are colored by its unforgettable force.  Haydn might have been at his best by teasing out a single theme.  However, this composer clearly knew how to pull the rug out (think of his “Surprise” Symphony) of his most tightly-constructed compositions.  While Beethoven has more raw power in his music, not by note, Haydn wins hands-down when it comes to interweaving a dance tune, horn calls, and bagpipe music into whole cloth.  Haydn aficionados know that he established the four-movement symphony (earning himself the moniker “Father of the Symphony”).  But who knew that “Papa” could pack so much passion into one symphony?

 Incidentally, the musicians who make-up the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra are the crème de la crème of the music world and gathered from all corners of the country:  St Louis, Pittsburgh, St. Paul--and let’s not forget New York.  There’s musicians represented here from the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, and Broadway itself.

 The Mostly Mozart Festival has one big shortcoming:  It comes and goes all too quickly.  This festival kicked off most apropos with an All-Mozart program, featuring his Overture to Don Giovanni, Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, and Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”).  But this Beethoven and Haydn program that I tucked into was, if not by Mozart, in his direct classical line.  What’s more, it invited Mozart-lovers to lend their ears to his successors, and to discover their unique musical fingerprints.

As an encore on August 2, Steven Osborne performed Beethoven’s Bagatelle in E-flat major, Op. 126, No. 3.

The Mostly Mozart Festival runs through August 23rd.

Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center Campus, 1941 Broadway, at West 65th Street.

For ticket information: phone 212-721-6500 or visit