Review: Mostly Mozart Returns to Lincoln Center, Quietly

NYT Music

The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, the headliner ensemble of Lincoln Center’s summertime music series, is the latest group to return to live performance in New York. But unlike some organizations, it sneaked back into action quietly.

Early Monday evening, Louis Langrée, the orchestra’s music director, led 13 players in a Mozart masterpiece, the “Gran Partita” Serenade for Winds in B flat. The informal performance — a surprise pop-up, produced with little promotion — took place on the inviting artificial lawn with which Lincoln Center has covered its plaza.

The concert, and other offerings in the center’s Restart Stages venture this summer, was conceived at a time when arts institutions were being especially careful to avoid attracting oversize crowds because of fears of the virus spreading. Those concerns, of course, linger.

But I wish the revival, however modest, of Mostly Mozart had been more touted. In addition to crowd control, the center’s reticence might have to do with the questionable fate of the venerable festival: As my colleague Javier C. Hernández reported Tuesday in announcing the news of the center’s new artistic leader, officials there say they are still working out Mostly Mozart’s future. That’s not reassuring, especially since it was only four years ago that the center, grappling with budget woes, dissolved the Lincoln Center Festival to focus on reinventing Mostly Mozart.

Despite the limited publicity, a couple hundred people, including children scampering up and sliding down the curved artificial turf walls, were already on the lawn before the performance began. As the players took their seats and started warming up with Langrée, the crowd grew even larger.

Langrée spoke to the audience about how special the occasion was for the musicians — the “first time in two years that Mostly Mozart gets together again.” He announced a schedule of performances for the rest of the week, including two more pop-ups, both at 6 p.m.: On Tuesday, a performance of a Mozart duo for violin and viola accompanying two dancers from the New York City Ballet, and on Wednesday, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Mozart’s Divertimento in D (K. 136). On Friday in Damrosch Park, at 8 p.m., the full orchestra will play Mozart’s first and final symphonies.

Monday’s performance was wonderful; hearing the music in that space amid grateful New Yorkers was inspiring. The musicians, who played splendidly, were visibly moved.

In the “Gran Partita” Serenade, Mozart achieves an uncanny blend of breeziness and grandeur. The music seems genial and sunny, yet is also intricate and complex, almost epic: The piece has seven movements and lasts some 45 minutes. The scoring is heftier than was typical of wind serenades at the time. Along with the standard two bassoons and two oboes, two clarinets are fortified by two basset horns (a deeper alto clarinet); two French horns are doubled to four; and a string bass brings added depth.

Subtle amplification allowed intricate details to come through beautifully. Langrée and the players — determined, it seemed, to draw in listeners — played whole stretches with mellow sound and soft-spoken grace, especially in the sublime slow movement. Yet the feistier episodes were full-bodied and exciting. The concluding rondo was exceptionally rousing.

It was gratifying to see how many people who might not have anticipated hearing this performance wound up standing near the players or sitting on the lawn, listening closely, including mothers swaying to the music with babies in their arms. Mostly Mozart is back, for the time being, even if many music lovers in New York didn’t know it.

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra

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