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« Motorama Showcars 1955 | Main | Lowering the Boom (Microphone) »

July 30, 2008

Not-so-mostly Mozart

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Leisure & Arts segment of the 30 July Wall Street Journal features this piece by Barrymore Lawrence Scherer in which he interviews the Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival music director Louis Langrée and artistic director Jane Moss.

Attendees will be treated to the following:

Indeed, in keeping with this year's festival theme of "Loss and Transformation," the programs include not only Mahler's chamber version of "Das Lied von der Erde" (tonight), music to "Pelléas and Mélisande" by Fauré (Aug. 8) and by Sibelius (Aug. 15 and 16), and Richard Strauss's "Metamorphosen" (Aug. 22, 23), but also two U.S. premieres of major contemporary works.

The first is by the festival's resident composer, Finland's Kaija Saariaho, "La Passion de Simone" (Aug. 13, 15 and 17). A staged oratorio, with soprano Dawn Upshaw and dancer Michael Schumacher directed by Peter Sellars, the work, to a text by the Paris-based Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, interprets the brief life of the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil (1909-43), whose frailty and ill health fired her religious mysticism. The second is "Requiem," a choreographic work by the Samoan-born, New Zealand-based theater artist and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio. Inspired by Mozart's Requiem and performed (Aug. 8 and 9) by Mr. Ponifasio's company, MAU, it is "a journey of hope and desire for transformation," in the composer's words, that filters traditional Samoan themes of death and remembrance through a modern intellect. ...

Loss and transformation are also the context for two video art installations by the Australian Lynette Wallworth. "A profound environmental message underlies 'Hold: Vessel 1 and 2,'" says Ms. Moss, who first saw the installation in Vienna during the 2006 celebrations there of Mozart's 250th birthday. As visitors pass through beams of light while holding reflective glass bowls, she says, they are immersed in beautiful projected images, which are actually elements of decaying coral reefs. The second installation, "Invisible by Night," uses an interactive video screen to allow participants to experience empathy for others' grief. "We've installed both works in the lobby of the Rose Theater, where we are presenting Saariaho's 'Le Passion de Simone' and Pontifasio's 'Requiem,'" says Ms. Moss, who is also Lincoln Center's vice president for programming. "And we're hoping that audiences at those performances will perceive both the installations and the performances as part of a unified emotional experience."

"So," I ask, "now that Mostly Mozart is continually broadening its repertoire to embrace even contemporary composers and visual artists, what reflection is there between Mostly Mozart and the Lincoln Center Festival, which precedes it each summer?" Ms. Moss responds without hesitation. "Lincoln Center Festival is less a music festival than an eclectic, international celebration of contemporary performing arts. Mostly Mozart remains a music festival, and no matter how far afield Louis and I roam, Mozart remains the composer in focus and the crystal through which the other compositions are refracted."

On the basis of Scherer's article, it looks like Mozart was simply an excuse for the directors to present a lot of Not-Mozart, including dance and installation art beloved by the postmodernist set. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld might put it.

But if your cuppa tea is sounds thought up by the lad from Salzburg, I would think that having an Entirely Mozart Festival would be a really swell idea. Lord knows the guy cranked out a lot of music, so raw material shouldn't be a limitation to doing different programs each year.

Setting aside my contention that the CD/iPod/ilk has eliminated the necessity for concertgoing, kindly allow me to rant about deceptive arts festivals.

Back in the early 80s my then-wife and I drove down to Ashland, Oregon where there is a well-known Shakespeare festival. But there was no Shakespeare that evening or some other complication, so all we could do was see the company's production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Believe me, Arthur Miller is not William Shakespeare nor is he even qualified to lick the Bard's boot.

Silly me, I had hoped to see a Shakespeare play at a Shakespeare festival. And I would hope to hear solid Mozart at a Mozart one.

If all those other compositions/dances/installations mentioned in the article are so great, then why doesn't Lincoln Center simply create a special event for them instead of piggybacking on Mozart? If the stuff's so fabulous, surely they'd have to hire extra cops to maintain crowd control at the box office.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at July 30, 2008




Comments

The more I live in NYC, the Limousine Liberal Capital of US, the more what's going on here reminds me of the failed USSR policies.

The "piggybacking" method was known in SU as "nagruzka", which was the consequence of "equal distribution of goods" principle. It referred, originally, to ever sparce food. Naturally, the quality food (mostly imported items) were always in deficit, so the Higher Authorities, in their infinite wisdom and love of democracy, ordered the supermarkets to sell sets of products, with desirable one being the hook, and the rest - the crap that was sitting on the shelves forever. Example: Moroccan oranges were paired with preserved seaweed tins, toilet paper - with immortal Brezhnev's "autobiography" tome (the latter coupling, in everyone's view, highly appropriate).
SU is no more, and the Glorious Socialist Planners had disappeared in the chasms of history, but I guess, Lincoln Center executives never got the memo!

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2008 2:26 PM



I'm surprised they don't drag jazz into the mix while they're on their multicult kick. Actually, it's a sort of bait-and-switch. Use Mozart's name to sell tickets and enhance the "tradition", then zap the audience with atonal music. Underlying much of this is the sad fact that many post-modernists (and modernists) really do dislike the heritage of our civilization and they take every opportunity to take it down a peg. They love nothing better than to associate Beethoven with Britten.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on July 30, 2008 3:37 PM



Ah, but Donald, you are assuming that one can wander over to Lincoln Center one evening during the festival and hope to enjoy some Mozart. In practice, you must buy tickets in advance, and thus will know exactly what you are in for.

Posted by: Julie Brook on July 30, 2008 3:38 PM



Julie -- Better yet, I can walk my CD of Mozart horn concerti over to the Bose and hear exactly what I want.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on July 30, 2008 3:52 PM



I don't think Mozart of the Bard is underrepresented in concert halls and theaters and any time of the year in any part of the U.S., and that's what I don't get about all this anti-modernist stuff. Classical, traditionalist pieces dominate theater and concert schedules BY FAR. But that's not enough, is it? Any form that does not conform to the classical tradition must be squelched out, the very existence of a festival that celebrates modernism sticks in the collective craws of the anti-modernist crowd.

Same goes with architecture. What is the ratio of modernist vs. traditional buildings? 1 to 100? 1 to 1000? Hell, I'd say even bigger.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

Posted by: JV on July 30, 2008 4:36 PM



A quick glance at the festival web site suggests that the schedule is, in fact, mostly Mozart--whatever they choose to emphasize in the WSJ Arts and Leisure section. Verdict: not guilty.

Posted by: Steve on July 30, 2008 4:48 PM



Well, I like Das Lied Van der Erde and plan to watch the PBS broadcast later tonight, so I don’t mind the adulteration if it’s by genius composers. Also, the Mostly Mozart orchestra under Louis Langree has very much improved. In fact, they are often a lot better than the regular NYC orchestra that plays at Avery Fisher Hall. Another nice innovation they’ve done at the MMF is put seats on the Avery Fisher Hall stage that cost only $35 or so, so if you’re used to sitting at third tier for that price, getting to sit close to the performers can be a rather interesting experience. The sound on stage is better than my stereo system.

The only MMF event I’ll attend this year is the all Mozart / Christian Gerhaher/ Freiburg Baroque orchestra program at the Rose Theater. It sold out pretty quickly. Meanwhile, lots of tickets still available for the Simone Weil opera. Surprise Surprise.

Posted by: CL on July 30, 2008 5:11 PM



When I lived in NYC in the seventies I attended Mostly Mozart concerts every summer. And that's what we got...mostly Mozart. There was Haydn and Vivaldi and Händel thrown in for good measure, but always 18th century music. And that was the essential program for this series from the beginning. Now, there is not a thing wrong with Stravinsky and Bartok. I rather like them. But why bother dragging them into a series that caters to 18th century music? I guess I'm not sophisticated enough to understand the marketing plan here. And, like Donald, I can always put on a Mozart opera and listen to his glorious music on my expensive, high-end stereo system. So, in point of fact, having a summer concert series of mainly Mozart with additional 18th century pieces makes perfect economic sense if you want to attract the maximum crowd. I would love to see the box office comparison at the end of the season. It might not tell us that much, though, because of the process Donald so eloquently described above.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on July 30, 2008 7:46 PM



Donald, have you listened to any of Mozart's horn chamber music? If you like the horn concerti, you will like the Quintet for Horn and Strings and the Twelve Duos for Two Horns. Both are on Martin Van De Merwe's Mozart: Chamber Music With Horn, which I highly recommend.

Posted by: Julie Brook on July 31, 2008 8:31 AM



DP: "Believe me, Arthur Miller is not William Shakespeare nor is he even qualified to lick the Bard's boot."

Nicely said.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 31, 2008 10:49 AM



Haven't listened to it, but I bet Robert Greenberg's "Chamber Music of Mozart" for the Teaching Company is great. Everything else of his that I've listened to is great. And get a load of the current price: 50 bucks gets you 16 CDs worth of music and instruction. Hard to beat.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 31, 2008 10:59 AM



"The more I live in NYC, the Limousine Liberal..."

Yah, and all the good conservatives walk, right? Bloody idiot!

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on July 31, 2008 12:49 PM



DP: "Believe me, Arthur Miller is not William Shakespeare nor is he even qualified to lick the Bard's boot."

Of course not, probably nobody is that qualified, but does that discount Miller entirely as a playwright?

Posted by: JV on July 31, 2008 2:32 PM



Winkler: FYI
Now apologize and buzz off.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 31, 2008 3:33 PM



Oh my god, Peter, you've gone and made T mad!!

Run for cover!

But wait....you've broken your hip, she hates that too. You can come stay with me if things get out of hand.

Posted by: Sister Wolf on July 31, 2008 4:13 PM



We have the same problem up here in Canada, at least in Ontario: for years now, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake has featured several plays by playwrights other than George Bernard Shaw, with the requirement that they were alive at some point during Shaw's lifetime (which certainly gives them a fair bit of room). And now, in recent years, the Stratford Festival in Stratford, which formerly only featured Shakespearean plays, now has several non-Shakespearean plays, and increasingly more each year. In both cases, the argument is, this is what they need to do, to bring in the crowds and stay afloat. Sad, that it must needs be so.

Posted by: Will S. on July 31, 2008 8:14 PM



JV, don't you think that Miller is one of the most overrated, overblown playwrights ever? Can you imagine his work surviving? I mean, de gustibus and all, but Death of a Salesman is actually laughable in its overwrought, hysterical and utterly false portrayal of a whole generation of men, none of whom were anything like Willy Loman.

Michael himself wrote a portrait of his father that rang far truer to that sad cohort of men, dead or dying now, than DoaS did. As for The Crucible, well it's just laughable too. I mean his work is just so bloody phony. Isn't it? Under all that rhetorical blah-blah feeling blah oratorical orotund grandiose blah blah blah ran a current of ice-cold contempt for actual people. The kind of ice that would motivate a man to reject his own Down Syndrome son.

A lousy father, a lousy man. A lousy playwright. Good riddance to him and Mailer and all that crowd.

Posted by: PatrickH on July 31, 2008 10:25 PM



I'm waiting for a summer Mostly Szymanowski Festival.

There, culturati, top that if you can.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 4, 2008 4:01 PM






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