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Mostly Mozart comes alive with surprise

NPR to broadcast opening concert of annual festival
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s quite a feat: conducting music written more than two centuries ago as if it were 2 days old, and being played for the first time.

That’s what Louis Langree achieved this week at Lincoln Center, injecting the music of Mozart with a lifeblood of the moment as he began his second summer at the helm of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.

On Friday evening, a coast-to-coast radio broadcast of the festival’s opening concert was scheduled to air on more than 200 stations affiliated with National Public Radio. (Check local listings for time.)

The musical lineup at Wednesday night’s concert was more than mostly Mozart. It was entirely Mozart: the “Jupiter” symphony; overture to the opera “La Clemenza di Tito”; Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, with soloist Yefim Bronfman; and four arias for voice with orchestra, with mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, a rising young star.

Surprisingly, the spirit of the Rolling Stones enters the French conductor’s take on classical music. He heard the rock group live for the first time last year in Brussels.

“They’re fantastic,” he told The Associated Press. “Classical musicians should go to see them more often — they have a fantastic energy, a tremendous charisma.”

That kind of energy now shines from the Mostly Mozart orchestra, which under its previous, longtime conductor, Gerard Schwarz, sounded increasingly listless and predictable.

Langree turns Mozart into an experience of the moment by reaching way beyond music.

“Mozart’s ’Jupiter’ symphony is a musical Rubik’s cube. It’s so complicated, so extreme — mathematics at such a level that — it works!” he said. “There’s a thunderstorm in it, there’s tenderness, there’s roughness, and there are jokes, structural jokes. It’s so complex, and yet so simple.”

This year’s festival, which runs through Aug. 28, shines with its music director’s effervescent spirit, resulting in experiments like the Aug. 27 performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” in the second half of a program that starts with meditative Indian and Persian improvisations played by the Grammy-nominated ensemble Ghazal.

“It’s good to experiment so that music doesn’t become a museum, with the same music played over and over again,” Langree said. “That is, it’s good to give people what they know and like — and also to offer them what they could like, what could enrich them.”

The festival also offers a fully staged production of Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte,” documentary film footage of some of the finest pianists of the 20th century playing Mozart, and live preconcert lectures on pieces to be performed.

It’s not all Mozart, all the time.

Bach’s solo cello suites played by Pieter Wispelwey are to be heard in three concerts that start at 10:30 p.m., set in a penthouse space overlooking the Manhattan skyline, with wine offered in-between the pieces.

The Mark Morris Dance Group is to perform to music by Haydn and Bach. During another concert with orchestra, violinist Joshua Bell is to play a piece by Pablo de Sarasate inspired by Gypsy music. And on Aug. 21, two afternoon performances are aimed at families with children, hearing a work for orchestra, voices and commentator by composer Robert Kapilow, based on a zany John Gardner poem that says: “Always be kind to animals, morning, noon, and night; For animals have feelings too, and furthermore, they bite.”