Mostly Mozart, the 46-year-old summer festival at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is in full swing and more vibrant than ever. Significantly, this year’s edition marks the tenth anniversary season of French conductor Louis Langrée as music director who, along with Jane Moss, artistic director, has been responsible for revitalizing Mostly Mozart, in particular, its heartbeat, the festival orchestra. He's credited with raising its playing standards and adding inventive programming that features soloists, both established and debut artists, period instrument bands, and contemporary music ensembles.
Year to year, the mix may include dance, sound installations, film, video. This year, Mostly Mozart takes up the theme of birds, “the originators of song and an inspiration for countless composers,” according to Moss, as a point of departure for a range of programming. Indeed, in the age of twitter, birdsong may never sound as pure. T+L spoke with Louis Langrée earlier in the season during a stopover in New York en route to Paris about Mostly Mozart, a conductor’s role, American audiences, and why the festival remains popular with travelers and New Yorkers alike.
Q: What are your thoughts on your 10th anniversary?
A: I’m quite amazed because a honeymoon doesn’t normally last for 10 years. Among the musicians of the festival orchestra and myself, there is mutual trust and affection, and yet it is remarkable that the relationship is still very fertile. We both bring something to the other and each year we continue to grow.
Q: Though there is a focus on Mozart, the repertoire may extend from the Renaissance to the contemporary, but what about conducting Mozart in particular?
A: In Mozart’s time, conductors as we know them today didn’t exist, except for opera. Because his instrumental music lies in between chamber music and symphonic performance, the role of the conductor then is to favoriser or to facilitate the exchange or dialogue among musicians so that they can express themselves fully. This makes for a much livelier dynamic.
Q: Describe how Mostly Mozart has evolved.
A: Part of the wonderful musical experience, for the musicians, no less the audience, is the level of guest conductors, such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Osmo Vänskä, and soloists, pianists, instrumentalists, including violinist Joshua Bell, or singers appearing for the first time. They inspire their fellow musicians. Regarding programming, I can never thank Jane Moss enough for making possible the commission of the Violin Concerto by the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg for the 2006 festival. The juxtaposition of Mozart with a contemporary composer of Lindberg’s stature makes it impossible to limit consideration of Mozart to only one context. One has no choice but to listen afresh.
Q: You conduct throughout the world. How do you find Mostly Mozart audiences?
A: They listen without prejudice. If they like a performance, they like it. If they don’t, well, one can feel it. Like the festival orchestra, they seem ready for any experiment, to give it a try, before deciding, yes or no, which is very different from many other places—and a quality to be cherished.
Mario Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.