After 55 years, Mostly Mozart Festival ends on a note of strength and defiance 

Sat Aug 12, 2023 at 2:19 pm

Two eras are coming to an end this weekend in David Geffen Hall: 50-plus years of Mostly Mozart (the festival began under a different name in 1966), and the 25-year tenure of conductor Louis Langrée (beginning as a guest, he was named music director in 2002). 

There will be an orchestra at Lincoln Center next summer, under conductor Jonathon Heyward, but with a still-yet-unknown name, which will be part of the “Summer for the City” festival, as per Lincoln Center’s new chief artistic officer Shanta Thake. 

Friday night’s penultimate performance of the festival’s final program, Mozart’s final three symphonies, Nos. 39-41, left the troubling impression that even if classical music will continue the summer, Mozart will be gone next year as well.

There is more great classical music than just Mozart, of course, but the spirit of Friday’s playing, which was celebratory of both the composer and Langrée, had the poignancy of farewells and impending losses. There was the force—positive in every way—of urgency, the need to leave the beauty and genius of the music permanently lodged in the walls of the hall and the minds and hearts of the listeners.

That sensation ramped up gradually through the start of the program, then hit a high plateau and remained. Played in order, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra played Symphonies 39 and 40 on the first half of the program, with the “Jupiter,” coming after intermission.

Perhaps it was the form of the symphony itself, with its long introduction before the main theme, uncanny in the genius of its off-kilter simplicity, but Symphony No. 39 felt a bit polite and staid for a while—Mozart presented as received masterpiece without the type of commitment and insight that brings older music to life. The rhythms and phrases were there, but slightly rounded off, without a full sense of lift.

A feeling of verve gradually grew through the colorful woodwind playing in the Andante, which had a slightly quick tempo that was stimulating—Langrée’s tempos in the relatively slow movements were quick all evening, yet all came off as excellent decisions. The Menuetto was earthy, with a real country dance feel, and this is where the playing sparked. 

From that point on, the concert was more than just Mozart’s notes, but also his humanism, the music pitched far beyond the social structures of his time and toward every listener.

Audiences for Mostly Mozart have been noticeably more diverse than those for the New York Philharmonic, and Friday night the audience listened with greater attention than one usually witnesses in David Geffen Hall. There is little in all of music that is as genuine, sincere, and loving of his fellow mankind as Mozart and even vast amounts of contemporary pop music cannot fulfill that value.

Thank Langrée for that. He spoke to the audience before each symphony, and took the time before the first two to have the orchestra play excerpts from the works, explaining both how individual themes work, how they were part of the larger form, and also simply laying out their charm and beauty. There have been no printed programs at the festival this year, which has come off as Lincoln Center, having cancelled the festival, being cheap toward the listener. As a result some people, especially newcomers, have been clearly confused about what they were hearing.

Langrée solved that and went beyond it, delivering both illumination and real connection. He highlighted the bassoons in a passage for Symphony No. 40, and one of the bassoonists waved to the audience while playing, in a funny and wonderful “we’re all here together” gesture. Even while saying, “It’s a concert, not a lecture,” he worked in a joke about how New York City buildings often don’t have a 13th floor marked in the elevator. During the performance of the 40th symphony,  the audience was utterly gripped.

Langrée noticed, remaking before the “Jupiter” performance that he and the musicians could feel how attentive the listening was, and that it gave them even more energy. With that, he and the orchestra delivered a “Jupiter” that was thrilling, gorgeous, full of passion and deep humanity. So deep was the experience that, called out for an encore, Langrée had the orchestra repeat the last section of the symphony’s finale.

Other sentiments slipped through Langrée’s remarks, as if they were so strong and meaningful to Langrée that he couldn’t help but say them. 

Before starting the “Jupiter”, he said, “I know now that Lincoln Center wants to present less classical music, because it is elitist,” and his thoughts seemed to drift off for a moment. Then, praising the musicians and saying many of them will be back, in some way, next year, the conductor said, “The name of Mozart will be erased from the orchestra… so please come back, support them.” 

This program can be heard for the last time 7:30 p.m. Saturday, in David Geffen Hall.


9 Responses to “After 55 years, Mostly Mozart Festival ends on a note of strength and defiance ”

  1. Posted Aug 12, 2023 at 5:16 pm by Sally Johnson

    It is truly stomach-turning that there are non-music people in charge at Lincoln Center who made the decision to annihilate Mostly Mozart and replace it with “We don’t know yet, we’ll tell you later.”

    In one interview, Shante Thake joked with the reporter, “It won’t be mostly anything!”

    What vision.

    The woman has a BA in Theater and a Business Masters. She does not have what we call Classical Music as a core love of her life.

  2. Posted Aug 13, 2023 at 12:31 am by Marylou Selo

    New York Summer will never be the same again without Mostly Mozart Concerts and the diverse audience it has attracted over the years. I have attended two or more concerts every summer since 1966!. Shame on you, Lincoln Center!

  3. Posted Aug 13, 2023 at 1:45 am by Pamela Trester & Salvatore Vittorio

    We wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by Sally Johnson in the above post. Tonight, with tears in our eyes, we listened to the final performance of The Mostly Mozart Orchestra conducted by Louis Langree. It was glorious!

    Shante Thake, Lincoln Center’s new Chief Artistic Officer, embarrassed herself at the beginning of the program by instructing (and insulting) the audience, as if we were four-year-old children, to “repeat after me” three inane phrases. Did she not understand that the evening was not about her?

    It WAS about honoring and thanking this wonderful orchestra, which has given its audiences such pleasure since its inception, and its conductor of 21 years, the incomparable Louis Langree. With his energy, talent, and spirit, Maestro Langree brought new life to the orchestra, and it never sounded better. He, along with Jane Moss, Lincoln Center’s former Artistic Director, developed programs that were varied, interesting, and enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds.

    As supporters of The Mostly Mozart Festival for almost 50 years, we are deeply saddened by its removal from Lincoln Center’s summer schedule, and by the response of tonight’s audience, it is clear that we are not the only ones who are questioning the judgment of Ms. Thake and Lincoln Center’s current leadership.

  4. Posted Aug 14, 2023 at 1:21 pm by Bela Gershgorin

    Shame on cynicism of Shanta Thake who was shameless enough to give Mr. Langree a bunch of red roses…

  5. Posted Aug 14, 2023 at 3:30 pm by Patricia Smith

    We can only second the comments above. Ms. Thake wonders why Lincoln Center should concentrate on classical music, opera, ballet, thinks it should broaden itself to present rap, etc. One can only wonder, has she ever been a regular at Lincoln Center?

    We have attended the MMF almost every year for over forty years, usually attending three or four concerts. It has been an integral part of our summer. In addition to the concerts, we’ve enjoyed pre-concert talks, pre-concert recitals, and excellent Playbills. All that was gone this year and last year,, and now the festival is gone too. It’s very sad for us personally and a great loss to the classical music world.

    Finally, a word about the ridiculous appearance by Ms. Thake at the start of the concert, asking the audience to breathe in and to repeat after her such inane phrases as “Thank you, teachers.” Made us wonder if the last name wasn’t Flake.

    Here’s to Louis Langree and the MMF Orchestra!

  6. Posted Aug 14, 2023 at 4:11 pm by Jerome Straus

    Shante Thake is an embarrassment.
    Chief Artistic Officer of Lincoln Center. REALLY?????

  7. Posted Aug 16, 2023 at 12:37 pm by Qais Al-Awqati

    I was there at this very sad and moving concert. The remarks by Ms Thake were really ridiculous and as mentioned above insulting to an adult audience. I was at the Mass in C minor concert where she gave the same psychobabble talk.

    I have been coming to Mostly Mozart for 45 years and have always been delighted to see a wide spectrum of New Yorkers attend these concerts. They were mostly sold out over the years. And yet Ms Thake is shutting the project down. I don’t know what she plans to do, but why couldn’t it has been something IN ADDITION to Mostly Mozart rather than in place of it?

  8. Posted Aug 16, 2023 at 4:49 pm by Saul Davis

    I have never liked the focus on Mozart, but at the time, it was clever marketing, if not clever programming. The lack of a permanent harpist in the orchestra meant less employment, and a far-narrower repertoire of less interest. It should never have been focused on one composer, but, it should certainly remain classical, and given the trends of late, classical music is likely to be shoved aside for the sake of politics. But as soon as attendance drops significantly, she will be out of a job. Preferably before that. She was obviously a terrible choice.

    The alternative is to continue something like Mostly Mozart, in another venue, perhaps City Center or Town Hall, or Central Park. Lincoln Center is not the center of the universe. Form a new festival, overshadow whatever she figures out to do.

  9. Posted Jan 06, 2024 at 8:20 pm by Jami

    I am devastated! Lincoln Center what were you possibly thinking and who IS Shante Thake? This is so disappointing, such a travesty.

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