Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Photos by: Jennifer Taylor
by Deirdre Donovan
playbill might read “Mostly Mozart,” but Beethoven and Haydn had the last word
in this August 2nd program.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
Mostly Mozart Festival runs through August 23rd.
Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center Campus, 1941 Broadway, at West 65th Street.
ticket information: phone 212-721-6500 or visit www.MostlyMozart.org.