Monday, July 30, 2007

Mostly Mozart's Maestro

Conductor Louis Langrée
Mostly Mozart Festival

July 31–August 25, 2007
Various Lincoln Center venues

Louis Langrée
Now in his fifth season as music director of Mostly Mozart, French conductor Louis Langrée continues to innovate in an arena some observers felt had become unrelievedly staid: four weeks of summer Mozart concerts.

Since the start of his tenure, Langrée (along with Jane Moss, vice-president of programming at Lincoln Center) has driven Mostly Mozart down varied artistically exciting and satisfying roads, which continues this season with several thematic concerts, a film series about pianist Glenn Gould (August 5), an art installation, “Breath,” in Avery Fisher Hall throughout the festival, more late-night concerts, and–for the first time–a composer-in-residence, Argentina’s Osvaldo Golijov, whose genre-bursting “La Pasion Segun San Marcos” will be heard at the festival August 18 and 19.

Taking a break from rehearsing the Opening Night program featuring music by Mozart, Beethoven and Golijov (July 31 and August 1), Langrée sat down to discuss all things Mostly Mozart.

Kevin Filipski: When you first became music director of the festival, did you want to shake things up musically?

Louis Langrée: Not really. I had been invited three times as a conductor here before I came aboard, so I already knew the musicians. I knew they had great potential to play great music and to grow and cultivate a style, as well as to conceive our roles as musicians with this specific kind of music. A symphony orchestra isn’t needed for Mozart, but more of a chamber orchestra–of course, in his time, it was just considered an orchestra. These players give and propose and react as they do when playing chamber music, and the conductor creates the conditions of musical dialogue, which is very important–actually, it’s essential in this music. I’m very happy and proud how everything is developing–I think they are not only very good musicians, but they are very generous with their talent. I try to give the best of myself and I know that they give the best of themselves too.

KF: How did you decide to have the festival branching out musically?
LL: We must never forget that Mozart also composed contemporary music, so we are now inviting contemporary composers: last year, Magnus Lindberg wrote a Violin Concerto (the first commissioned work by the festival), and this year, we have Osvaldo Golijov as our first composer-in-residence. I give thanks to Jane Moss for ensuring that all of our ideas, suggestions and new ways of doing things come about. Last year was our first art installation, and this year we have another one called “Breath,” which I can’t wait to see.

Another important thing I share with Jane is asking questions like “What does a concert mean?” and “What do you expect when you do a festival like this?” It’s not that simple: will we just play an overture, a concerto with a famous soloist and end with a big Mozart symphony? Of course, we still do that but we are trying new experiments, and an institution like this must always experiment to keep music fresh and alive. It’s exciting to imagine different approaches, and what we do is ask: Mozart is the God of Western Music, but how is he compared with Eastern music? So one year we juxtaposed Mozart’s “Requiem” with Indian and Persian music, and the following year we played Orthodox church music, then Mozart’s C-minor Mass.

KF: How did the two-concert Beethoven Marathon (August 4) come about?
LL: One of our most important events this summer is to recreate the program that Beethoven himself conceived in Vienna in 1808: of all the concert programs in the history of music, this is the most famous, because he premiered his 5th and 6th symphonies, composed the “Chorale Fantasy” specifically for this program, and performed his 4th piano concerto for the first time in concert (on August 4, Jeffrey Kahane is piano soloist for the concerto and “Choral Fantasy”). It was also his last public concert appearance.

We thought about why he put these pieces together. Without art, we are poor, but with art we can reach the highest level of goodness and beauty – this is absolutely essential for understanding Beethoven’s art. It’s unclear what Beethoven believed in a religious sense, but there’s an undeniable spirituality to his music. Even the final movement of the “Pastoral” (6th symphony) is spiritual music, the opposite of everything you expect of the usual bombastic end to a symphony. The 5th symphony is, of course, a complete contrast to the “Pastoral”: it moves from C minor to C Major at the end, from darkness to light.

KF: You can find a connection between Mozart and composers who came before and after him. Does that affect how you program his works, even the more familiar pieces?
LL: Of course! We’ll keeping playing his “Jupiter” symphony, but in a certain context–for example, why do we play the “Jupiter” and not the “Prague” symphony or “Linz” symphony? Last year, our opening concert began his father’s ‘Toy’ symphony, followed by Mozart’s first symphony (written when he was a child), then finally the last symphony, the “Jupiter,” so you could hear the progression of the musical style. There is always content, there is always a frame, there is always a link to other music and other arts: like our installation, “Breath,” and the sacred music we are performing (by Golijov, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and Rachmaninoff). So linking the sacred music with music like Beethoven’s “Pastoral” makes sense, since the jubilation heard at the end of that symphony has something spiritual to it, which is very important for this program. So, yes, everything is linked.

KF: How will Osvaldo Golijov participate as the festival’s first composer-in-residence?
LL: He is programming concerts, including his own pieces (the New York premiere of “Azur,” a work for cello and orchestra, will be performed at the Opening Night concerts by Alisa Weilerstein). That it’s possible to speak with the composer and to see the different approaches to his music even helps to change how we play Mozart, who is a composer you can’t call on the phone. Osvaldo also wanted the Monteverdi Vespers performed as well (August 20), because it has influenced him greatly, as have Schubert’s symphonies (August 23). Osvaldo’s presence is refreshing and helps us define the role of music, since, as I said, Mozart also composed contemporary music, which we usually forget.

KF: What will future Mostly Mozarts sound like?

LL: There’s always an evolutionary process in music making, and it is the same with the festival. There’s a beautiful phrase by (French poet) Paul Valery: “A work of art is never finished, it’s only abandoned.” This means that works of art continue to grow, continue to give insight into life. Our plan is to have a composer-in-residence every year, but it’s not official yet. And each year will have its own flavor and shape. It’s still the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and we will never compete with the sheer volume of a symphony orchestra, but I want energy instead of volume. There’s so much still to do musically – we may have a Haydn Year, a Handel Year, since both of those composers were great influences on Mozart. There are so many possibilities.

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