Conductor: Louis Langrée
Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
Gluck: Final scene from Don Juan, ou Le festin de pierre
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
I have always found it profoundly paradoxical that constantly hurried New Yorkers nevertheless spend so much of their precious time standing in endless lines at the movies, at the restaurant, at the bus stop, at the store, at Shakespeare in the Park, and at the Lincoln Center to score free tickets for the preview concert of the Mostly Mozart Festival, the latter being the only substantial ticket line I have been joining every year, and which last Saturday morning turned out to be yet another uneventful three hour of sitting down before dutifully obeying the stark orders to "keep the line moving".
Later on, serendipity was definitely in the air as an early arrival at the Lincoln Center allowed me to enjoy a few minutes of the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ “Sila: The Breath of the World”, which was being performed on the Hearst Plaza by numerous musicians standing all over the place, from the overhead lawn to the water of the fountain, to the middle of the crowd. And suddenly I found myself surrounded by 2,500 people of all kinds enjoying a magical summer evening imbued with unflappably atmospheric music.
The power of good timing did not stop there as I met my friend Christine for an over-priced and over-sinful gelato before reaching our premium orchestra seats for Berlioz's famously mind-tripping Symphonie fantastique, as well as two shorter but just about as otherworldly works by Mozart and Gluck. All of that, of course, in the company of maestro Louis Langrée, who in the span of the past 12 years has come to epitomize the Mostly Mozart Festival almost even more than the Viennese master himself, and the dynamic festival orchestra.
As tradition goes, the eclectic, excited crowd packing the Avery Fischer Hall, including three bleacher-style seating areas on the stage, had to patiently wait through the routine speeches, and then got superbly rewarded by the performance that followed. Although it is not as impeccably sparkling as the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, the overture to Don Govanni is still Mozart at his most effortlessly seductive with a harmonious balanced combination of light-hearted humor and underlying darkness.
And so it was on Saturday night, a most fitting unofficial opening to the festival.
The world's most notorious seducer was also the focus of the second piece of the evening, the last scene of Gluck's Don Juan, which features a quite apocalyptic ending to what was admittedly quite an apocalyptic life. Accordingly, Louis Langrée energetically encouraged the musicians to cut loose from all niceties and totally revel into the appealing horror of it all. And so did we.
Once fired-up, orchestra and conductor kept moving and whole-heartedly threw themselves into a resounding Symphonie fantastique. Things started very civilly, with the rapt audience happily partaking into contemplative Rêveries and hot-blooded Passions, delicately swooning along the elegant Waltz and quietly enjoying the bucolic Scène aux champs. Then we finally got to the heart of the matter with a frightfully riotous Marche au supplice and a Dies irae-driven Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat, which was as nightmarish as grand finales dare to be. Being eight rows from the stage certainly gave me a different sonic perspective from my usual perch, and many instrumental details which blend and become a whole as music rises were clearly and interestingly noticeable. Colors were more nuanced, small touches were more precise, and the whole experience was as thrilling as an actual opium-infused trip. Or so I guess.