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The Mostly Mozart Festival 

By Michall Jeffers

   Note for next season: If you have an opportunity to get a seat facing the conductor at the Mostly Mozart Festival, grab it! Seeing the program from this angle is a whole different experience, and it’s well worth it. Conductor Louis Langree exudes sheer joy, and clearly inspires the musicians with his animated facial expressions as well as his lyrical hands. The internationally renowned Langree has been the music director since 2002. The exuberant Frenchman was named Renee and Robert Belfer Music Director in 2006, and in the same year, was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture in his native country. He has long been a favorite conductor of opera companies around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala.

  The members of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra clearly adore their leader, and the feeling is mutual. The group is composed of some of the finest musicians currently employed by top American orchestras; they come together on the thrust stage of Avery Fisher Hall as the only U.S. orchestra dedicated to the music of the Classical period. The ensemble is modeled on what such a group would have been like in Mozart’s era. The mutual respect the musicians have for one another, and their individual skill are factors that are crucial to the success of the orchestra; but even Langree has marveled at just how well the musicians work together. “How is it possible that these musicians that play together only five weeks each year…come together as an ensemble so quickly?”  He answers his own question by noting “It’s about a different type of attitude, about individual musicians collectively coming together to make music.” 

   This season concluded with a unique program that was performed on August 22 -23. The first half of the evening consisted of interspersing modern composer Frank Martin’s Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion, written in 1973, with Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1724 chorales from St. John Passion, as sung by the Concert Chorale of New York. Martin was a Swiss composer who wrote Polyptyque at the behest of revered violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Martin held Bach in such high esteem compared to those of the master. Instead, he created six “pictures” depicting the Passion of the Christ. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja vividly brings these segments to life. The petite Moldovan-Austrian artist appears young and delicate as she walks on the stage with her precious violin, the 1834 product of Giovanni Francesco Pressenda, held high above her head. But as soon as she begins to play, the audience is transfixed by her passion and expertise. 

   After the intermission, the audience was treated to a spirited rendition of Mozart’s Requiem, K.626, again sung by the Concert Chorale of New York. This work is familiar to most audiences, and is one of Mozart’s most widely performed pieces. The solo singers were outstanding; Soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Dimitri Pittas, and especially bass Morris Robinson, elevated the already stellar evening, and received several well deserved curtain calls. While it may seem strange to end the celebration of composer Mozart’s festival with a requiem, Langree explains, “Mozart’s Requiem is a self-portrait. It is the most intimate Mozart I know. It’s a piece in which we can perceive not only the composer and the genius, but the man.” He adds, “This Requiem ends with a kind of mystery and beauty and depth-not sadness. In the beginning you have anxiety, this fight…At the end there is pacification. Transfiguration is the right term.” Langree felt free to edit the piece to work with this program, especially since Mozart himself did not write all the music. The composer died before he could finish; the work fell to two of his pupils, Joseph Eybler and Franz Xaver Sussmayr. Mozart’s widow badly needed the money, which would not have been paid had the Requiem not been completed.

   While the festival is built around the music of Mozart, there is much diversity in the programs which are included. Notably, this summer saw the newest creation of the Mark Morris Dance Group, Acis and Galatea, which was composed by Handel and arranged by Mozart. The libretto is by John Gay, with Alexander Pope and John Hughes. The colorful, flowing costumes were designed by Isaac Mizrachi. Although sung in English, the lyrics appeared above the stage. This is a dance company which doesn’t follow the dictates of what we have come to expect from other, more staid establishments. The troupe is interracial; several female dancers have short hair; in this offering, the men wear skirts and hold hands; and everyone dances barefoot. The production is romantic, and great fun.

   The Mostly Mozart Festival has become a staple of New York’s summer culture. The new interior of the Koch Theater is much improved, with comfortable seats and wide aisles adding to the enjoyment of the audience. During the long cold winter ahead, we can be warmed with the assurance that next season, the magic of Mostly Mozart will once again delight us.  

The Mostly Mozart Festival ran through August 23rd.

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

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