Tuesday, August 15, 2017


visit lincolncenter.org for information

by Dwight Casimere

Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart July 25-August 20 was the summer's most celebrated serious musical festival and certainly one of the year's most anticipated. With seating at capacity, including risers surrounding the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra  onstage at David Geffen Hall, participants were treated to, not only the works of the festival's namesake, but those of modern composers inspired by him, and a host of international luminaries, including esteemed British conductor Edward Gardner, formerly of the English National Opera, Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson, and the Danish String Quartet. Music Director Louis Langree, appointed to the post in 2002 and named Renee' and Robert Belfer Music Director in 2006, has propelled the Mostly Mozart Orchestra to critical acclaim and has affirmed the festival as an annual summertime highlight.

Among the stand-out performances was that of American pianist Jeremy Denk in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, July 28-29, in which Mr. Denk brilliantly re-created Beethoven's own cadenza's. A MacArthur Fellowship and Avery Fisher Prize winner, and recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Mr. Denk made the case for the No. 4 as one of Beethoven's most impressive as a piano virtuoso and one his most intimately expressive as a composer. Denk captured the great one's Romantic flair and absolute command of the keyboard's full orchestral possibilities. 

From the declarative opening theme of the first movement, Allegro moderator, Denk set the stage for the drama that would unfold. Andante con moto, the emotive, songlike second movement, dripped with Romanticism, with Mr. Gardner gently nudging the orchestra forward, providing a lush context for the unfolding of Denk's, and the composer's poetic tale. The Rondo: Vivace presented one of the most spirited repartee between soloist and orchestra this side of The Proms on the other side of the Atlantic, where Mr. Denk is a frequent performer with the BBC Orchestra. 

Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major concluded the program with a sensitive, informed reading under the deft hands of Mr. Gardner. The work's third movement minuet, Allegro molto, is, in many ways, a nod to Mozart. The work is not given nearly as much prominence as the those of other's of Schubert's era. Here. Mr. Gardner and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra give him proper recognition as a writer of uncommon sensitivity and majesty. 

Louis Langree conducted and the innovative percussion ensemble So Percussion performed in a program August 1-2, that featured Mozart's Overture to the opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). Celebrated American composer David Lang was present in the audience and on stage for  the New York Premiere of his 2013 composition man made, which included the collaborative efforts of So Percussion, playing an eclectic mix of percussion instruments, including breaking Vic Firth sticks, which appeared to be like elongated twigs,  into various sized pieces, playing Zildjian cymbals, various sized wine and other types of glass bottles, pottery, various exotic drums from Remo drumheads and keyboards from Estey Organs. So Percussion returned to the stage to give a most unusual encore,  a solo performance employing only rhythmic hand clapping as their instrument. It was intriguing and rather unexpected, but it brought the audience to their feet. That's precisely the type of thing that makes the Mostly Mozart Festival so intensely popular and an element that attracts new audiences.

So Percussion on the Vic Firth sticks 

Danish String Quartet's performance August 10 was, for this reviewer, one of the shining moment of the festival. The ensemble embodies the quintessential qualities shared by all great string ensembles; complete simpatico and cohesive flow between its members, and a thorough understanding of the material at hand, which allows for both freedom of interpretation and conversely, strict adherence to the wishes and demands of the composer. This was indeed a wholly satisfying evening of classical chamber music that gave Beethovens' String Quartets in G major and F major ("Razumovsky") the vivid portrayal they deserved. 

Danish String Quartet

Intricate and difficult, the quartet made them seem light and airy and reduced their heroic scope and expanisve symphonic leanings. That feeling was further conveyed in the intimate setting of the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the presentation of A Little Night Music with the Danish String Quartet playing their lush, modern arrangements of ancient Folk Music from Nordic countries. The hundred or so patrons, seated at cabaret-style candlelit tables with complimentary wine and bottles of Pellegrino sparkling water, enjoyed the innovative sounds of these brilliant musicians, who showed that each is a virtuoso in their own right. The folk tunes, some dating back 300 years or more, showed a surprising connection to the popular music of today.

 The music, which was then composed for dances, funerals, weddings, Christmas holidays and other festivities showed a durability that spanned the ages. The quartet mined all of the rhythmic and tonal possibilities of these ancient music tomes and showed their enduring relevance to today's world. It was both an illuminating and enjoyable evening made even more magical by the backdrop of the city skyline visible from the penthouses's virtually floor to ceiling windows. Its a magical setting to enjoy A Little Night Music. Quartet members stayed behind to mingle with the audience, take selfies and personally autograph copies of their CD's, including their soon-to-be released album of Nordic folk music, which was presented that evening.

Friday and Saturday, August 11-12, performances of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major with violinist Thomas Zehetmair ( who bears a striking resemblance to the American actor Ed Harris) as soloist and international conducting sensation Andrew Manze at the podium, was the crown jewel of Mostly Mozart. 

Thomas Zehetmair violin soloist

Zehetmair's approach to this explosive work was at times lyrical and poetic, at others, explosive, capturing the kaleidoscopic fireworks of one of Beethoven's most dramatic works. After a regal opening by the Mostly Mozart Orchestra and conductor Manze, Zehetmair's violin made its entrance like an heroic tenor, singing a plaintive aria, in which the main theme will be replicated and repeated in various shapes and orchestral voicings throughout the composition. Zehetmair further elevated his exceptional playing by replicating the complex and demanding cadenzas which had been transposed by the composer to a piece for piano and orchestra. They were recast for the violin by the eminent Austrian violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and were brilliantly performed by Mr. Zehetmair. His energetic playing literally caused him to fray the outer strings on his bow.

It was a performance without parallel.

Maestro Manze concluded the program with an insightful performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Familiar to all who love Mozart's symphonies, Manze and the exceptional interpretations of the orchestra, particularly the fine playing of the woodwind section, made this an ovation-worthy performance. With the exception of a slightly halting entrance by the horns at the beginning of the Allegro assai, this was a flawless rendition.

Mostly Mozart continues with Brahm's Symphony No. 1 August 15-16 with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing music from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni August 17, 19-20 at the Rose Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto August 18-19 at David Geffen Hall with supreme virtuoso Gil Shaham as violin soloist. Visit lincolncenter.org for details.