At Mostly Mozart, Mostly Magnus, in a Concerto and Chamber Pieces
By Allan Kozinn
From the New York Times - August 24, 2006
Contemporary music, of all things, ruled the evening in a pair of Mostly Mozart programs on Tuesday. In the main concert, at Avery Fisher Hall, Louis Langrée led the orchestra in two Mozart overtures and a piano concerto, but the main draw was the premiere of a hefty new violin concerto by Magnus Lindberg. And the late concert, at the Kaplan Penthouse, was devoted to three substantial chamber works by Mr. Lindberg, in vivid, high-energy performances by the International Contemporary Ensemble.
The modern works in Mostly Mozart’s programming this summer generally used Mozart as a reference, quoting and transforming his music, or alluding to Mozartean gestures. Mr. Lindberg’s Violin Concerto (2006) doesn’t do that: its sole concession to the festival, which commissioned it, is its use of an orchestra of Mozartean proportion and coloration.
Does that matter? Thematically, maybe. But works composed to suit the circumstances of their premieres often turn out to be novelty pieces. Mr. Lindberg seems to have been aiming for something more durable, and more of a piece with his own catalog of works.
For the most part that’s what he produced. In the opening pages, the solo violin line was surrounded and eventually engulfed by the orchestral strings, which created the clean, icy texture that became the spine of much of the 25-minute score. Eventually this texture became the backdrop for embellishments of all kinds, ranging from adventures in gamelan scales, to moves that sounded like lost visitors from the world of film soundtracks.
Lisa Batiashvili played the solo violin line with energy and agility, and a tightly focused sound that wove easily in and out of the orchestral fabric, and she seemed unfazed by the line’s postmodern shifts from Bartokian angularity to lyrical sweetness.
The lengthy, riveting cadenza near the end of the work is full of beauty and surprise, and it samples the full gamut of violin technique, from pizzicato to sliding and trilling, to lush melodies in double stops. Ms. Batiashvili made the most of its showpiece qualities but also maintained its internal coherence.
The chamber scores at the late concert put the concerto in perspective. The earliest, “Linea d’Ombra” (1981), showed that Mr. Lindberg, then fresh out of music school, was already a master of morphing instrumental (and vocal) sounds into ear-catching effects. The solo line of his Clarinet Quintet (1992), played gracefully by Joshua Rubin, showed a debt to Messiaen, but the context — an eerie string sound and quickly shifting textures and sensibilities — revealed Mr. Lindberg’s thumbprints.
The closing work, “Zona” (1983, revised 1990), catches Mr. Lindberg on the path between the virtuosic effects of “Linea d’Ombra” and the more considered manipulations of the quintet and the violin concerto.
At the early concert the polished veneer of the festival orchestra seemed to be cracking as the festival neared its end. Beneath a bright surface created largely by speedy tempos and sharp dynamic contrasts, precision fled at several points, most notably at phrase endings that were not quite together. The one treat among the Mozart offerings was Lars Vogt’s sensitive, crystalline account of the Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488), in which he played Mozart’s own cadenzas.
The Beauty Lost In a Sea of TranquilityClassical Music
By Fred Kirshnit
From the New York Sun - August 24, 2006
Mozart lived in an era in which the choice of key signature indicated a particular mood or humor, a significant artistic tool for shaping aesthetic result. The composer himself reserved A major to express the rapture of contemplated, idealized beauty. Tuesday evening, the pianist Lars Vogt performed Mozart's lovely Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major under the baton of festival director Louis Langrée at the Mostly Mozart Festival.
Its beauty proved a bit elusive, however. Mr. Vogt is a rather straightforward pianist with a uniform and measured touch. He quickly established an atmosphere of quietude from which he did not vary, but this tranquility translated into neither delicacy nor deliquescence. It was clear almost from the outset that we could depend on Mr. Vogt's accuracy, but his sense of poetry proved less reliable. The orchestra, which has seemed less disciplined this season than the last two, followed competently but not enchantingly. The workaday quality of this performance was jarringly out of touch with Mozart's quest for the radiant.
When Emanuel Ax introduced his rendition of the Rondo in A minor last week at the Kaplan penthouse, he mentioned its unusual rhythm of the siciliana, a dance step also featured in the Andante in F-sharp minor, which is the middle movement of this concerto. Again Mr. Vogt acquitted himself in an unobjectionable manner, but I wished for quite a bit more lyricism. In the final Allegro assai, he was indeed impressive in his separation of every note, pianism both clear and defined. But this was only technically good Mozart playing, not sensitive tone painting. Mr. Vogt opted for Mozart's own cadenzas.
Mozart wrote the A major concerto while in the throes of composing "Le Nozze di Figaro," and the incredible overture from that opera opened the program. This was the best playing of the evening — Maestro Langrée kept the pace quick and the accents strong. However, the corresponding curtain raiser from "Don Giovanni" — sharpeared listeners recognized that this was not the operatic version but rather a bastardized concert arrangement — was much less incisive. The opening chords were not very intimidating, the enunciation in the violin section rather slurred and unfocused. After years of steady deterioration under Gerard Schwarz, the Mostly Mozart Orchestra experienced a rebirth under Mr. Langrée just a couple of seasons ago. Hopefully, it is not now simply waddling back to its old lazy ways.
Also on the menu was the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto. Every boy in Santo Domingo wants to grow up to be Pedro Martinez and every kid in Helsinki wants to be the next Sibelius. It was, however, perhaps unfair to Mr. Lindberg to program his latest effort on the same evening as three of Mozart's most luminous masterpieces.
The piece projected a certain harmonic cohesion and a few quotes from Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2. But it was difficult to evaluate the performance of violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who appeared to toil away assiduously, but, quite honestly, could have been playing the score upside down for all anyone knew. Seemingly interminable passages of feline pugnacity gave all of the string players a good workout but meandered arbitrarily among the highest — and squeakiest — notes on the fingerboard. The horns, who were superb all evening, appeared to be navigating some very difficult passages with superhuman steadiness of pitch. I have but one thought from the Bard for Mr. Lindberg, who seemed pleased with this realization when he emerged from the wings for his bow: Brevity is the soul of wit.
Last season, Mostly Mozart experimented with bringing the stage closer to the middle of Avery Fisher Hall and installing acoustical "mushroom tops" above the musicians. The result was a definite brightening of the overall orchestral sound. This year, that configuration is back and begs the question of why it is not employed during the regular concert season. Perhaps it would be a bit much for a 100 piece Mahler or Strauss work, but the Philharmonic and the stable of visiting ensembles still program many nights of Beethoven and Brahms. Having the sound reach the ear a little more brilliantly is a good thing, no?
Finding the relevance, mostly, of modern Mozart
By Justin Davidson
From Newsday.com - August 25, 2006
With the Mostly Mozart Festival turning 40 and its namesake 250, the caretakers of both have felt compelled to argue that they still matter. "We are eager to demonstrate that the revelatory impact of Mozart's genius is as powerful and relevant today as it was in his own century," announce music director Louis Langrée and artistic director Jane Moss in the program.The test of Mozart's modernity is the influence he continues to exert on creative artists. Langrée and Moss have not left that influence to chance. They commissioned Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg to write an allegedly Mozartian violin concerto, persuaded Mark Morris to choreograph a new set of "Mozart Dances" and got a trio of visual artists to weave the "Jupiter" Symphony into a digital video installation.The collective picture that emerges from all this Mozart-themed creativity is a judiciously blurred one, like those Gilbert Stuart portraits of George Washington that go all fuzzy around the toothless mouth. This is a case where relevance relies on vagueness."Enlightenment," the elaborate digital artwork in the Avery Fisher Hall arcade, emphasizes the rational derivation of the "Jupiter" Symphony's fugue, which is its least interesting aspect.Morris, who waited 25 years to choreograph Mozart, created a festival of nuance. He has usually relied on a sturdy rhythmic impulse common to composers as different as Monteverdi, Lou Harrison, Purcell, Vivaldi and Stravinsky. In Mozart, he incorporated subtleties of phrasing, recurrences that are never quite the same and rhythmic lilts that resist the thud of foot on plank.Sometimes the dancers followed the music's flow, twitching at each grace note, or chasing each other's movements in the visual counterpart to canon. In other places, the dance sped ahead of the score, or let it pass in stillness, acknowledging that slow music can be agitated and rapid passages, serene.Morris interpreted Mozart bar by bar; Lindberg dealt with his muse by ignoring him almost completely. On Tuesday, the young and spectacularly poised violinist Lisa Batiashvili played the world premiere of Lindberg's violin concerto as if she had grown up with the piece. Premieres can be slightly desperate affairs, but Batiashvili has worked the ceaseless flow of her part right into her muscle tissue.Lindberg is a flinty purist in an age of stylistic promiscuity. The new-music world has become a chaotic MySpace of predilections, in which Filipino gong music mixes with flamenco wails, medieval motets, ambient electronics and a hip-hop beat, sometimes within a single piece. Mozart might have enjoyed the perpetual mash-up, but 48-year-old Lindberg is having none of it. He has been steadily turning out hyperactive, bright-skinned works in which the frenzied surface whirls around a dense core of logic.Here, he sacrifices his usual percussion-crammed orchestra, softens his angular contours and gives the violin some fairly traditional acrobatics. But "lyrical" would be too soft a word for this enameled piece. Lindberg was not about to write some postmodern neo-Mozart just for the sake of an anniversary. Relevance will have to wait.