New York Law School

Art Leonard Observations

Posts Tagged ‘Mostly Mozart Festival’

David Afkham Debut at Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center

Posted on: August 18th, 2013 by Art Leonard No Comments

Last night I attended my second (and last) Mostly Mozart Festival Concert for this summer.  The big news, as far as I am concerned, is the New York conducting debut of David Afkham, a young (b. 1983) German conductor, who led the orchestra in an all-Brahms concert. 

Mr. Afkham, born in Freiburg and educated there and in Weimar, has had some prominent mentors: Bernard Haitink and Valery Gergiev (with whom Afkham served two years as assistant conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra).  He has been assistant conductor of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra for three years, and will be taking up his first important appointment, as principal conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra, in 2014.  In the U.S., he’s already appeared with the Los Angeles, Cleveland and Seattle orchestras, and over the next two years will also be conducting in Cincinnati.  He’s hit many major podia in Europe, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the LSO, and the La Scala Philharmonic, and has won several young conductor contests.  So clearly he has the foundation for an international conducting career.

To judge by his work last night, in the second of two presentations of this program, he’s ready!  The first half brought Brahms’ Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 102, and the concert concluded with the Symphony No. 2, Op. 73.

Soloists for the concerto were Vadim Repin and Truls Mork, both of whom I’ve heard before both in concert and on recordings.  Mork is a particular favorite.  As is not unusual with performances of this concerto, the cellist outshown the violinist.  I think this is partly because there are only a handful of cello concerti in the active symphonic repertory, and this is one of them, but there are too many violin concerti to count, so odds are, almost always, that the cellist will be a veteran of the piece while the violinist will not be quite so familiar with it.  And this tends to show.  Repin was fine, but Mork was extraordinary, much more at ease with the music.  Afkham gave them a sturdy framework within which to play, and they did a fine job.  The Mostly Mozart Orchestra wind soloists are an excellent bunch, and Brahms gives all of the principals chances to shine, of which they took full advantage. 

And, even more so in the symphony, with big solos splendidly played by principal hornist Lawrence DiBello, oboist Randall Ellis, clarinetist Jon Manasse, flutist Yoobin Son, and bassoonist Marc Goldberg.  The brass also get a fine workout in this piece, especially the finale, and, as always, timpanist David Punto was superb in his big solo spots, especially the quiet ones in the first movement.  The string section of this orchestra is really chamber orchestra size, and in some late romantic works that could be a handicap, but this symphony benefits from the clarity that a slightly smaller strong section provides, and one never had a sense that the string sound was inadequately sumptuous.  Although this one month a year orchestra can’t hope to have the kind of cohesion and tightly-knit ensemble regularly displayed by the NY Philharmonic, they come very close, and as the Mostly Mozart season progresses, they constantly get stronger.  I thought the playing last night was at a higher level than I heard a week ago in Beethoven’s 5th, a performance that impressed me favorably.

Afkham took a very romantic view of the piece, bending the tempo nicely to mark transactions, finding bits of emphasis and inflexion in the long lines, achieving the desirable lightness in the faster sections of the third movement, and making a really sumptuous feast out of the big tunes in the finale.  

I hope that people from the NY Philharmonic pay attention to the young conductor debuts at Mostly Mozart, because the Philharmonic guest conductor list is a bit stodgy and predictable, and they need to help develop the conductors of the future by giving more of them guest shots.  Afkham should be in line for one, that’s for sure!

A Mozart & Beethoven Evening at Mostly Mozart 2013

Posted on: August 11th, 2013 by Art Leonard No Comments

In recent years I have attended many of the annual Mostly Mozart Festival Concerts at Lincoln Center, but my schedule this year has made that difficult, since I was away the first week of August for Glimmerglass Opera Festival, and I will be away the last weekend in August for the Lavender Law Conference in San Francisco.  But I am squeezing in two Mostly Mozart concerts, mainly because I particularly enjoy their Music Director, Louis Langree.

Last night I attended a Mozart-Beethoven evening conducted by Langree.  He began with Beethoven’s Overture to “The Ruins of Athens” and concluded with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  In between, he presented Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 K 219, commonly called the Turkish Concerto because of the pseudo-Turkish music in the finale, with Isabelle Faust as soloist.

I thought this was an excellent concert, despite the conservatism of the programming, because the conductor and orchestra were so intensely engaged, and the soloist was so delightful.  The Beethoven overture is actually rarely played as a concert piece, probably because it lacks the great tunes and exalted structure of the frequently played Beethoven concert overtures, such as Egmont or Prometheus, or the various overtures he wrote for his only opera (Leonore, known in revised form as Fidelio).  But this made sense for the program, because the theater piece for which he wrote it depicted the results of the Turkish sack of the city of Athens, so it provided at least a brief take by Beethoven on the pseudo-Turkish music that was the rage in central Europe in the late 18th-early 19th centuries.  Mozart did rather more with this, not only in the finale of the Concerto, but also in his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio.  The result is lively and tuneful, with hearty, stomping dance rhythms, in the Mozart finale.  Any “Turkish” influence in Beethoven’s music is more subtle.

Ms. Faust, who I don’t believe I’ve previously heard perform live, is an entrancing soloist, very physically demonstrative, who introduces her own ornaments and even some mini-cadenzas in the course of Mozart’s concerto, as the young composer (he wrote this at 19) would probably have done himself.  The interplay between Faust and Langree was fun to watch, and the result was a triumph.

No less a triumph, from my perspective, was the Beethoven symphony performance.  Of course, the Mostly Mozart orchestra, an aggregation of mainly freelancers and members of other groups that comes together annually to spend the month of August together with Langree, doesn’t have the polish and tightly knit ensemble of a group that plays together continuously throughout the long concert season, such as Orpheus or St. Luke’s or the NY Philharmonic.  As a result, there is sometimes a sort of “rough and ready” quality to their playing.  In addition, we are used to hearing Beethoven’s 5th performed by a rather larger string body than this (10-8-6-4-3), so the second movement suffered a bit from the lack of a really big, plush string sound, and the finale could sound a bit scrappy at times from the sheer lack of depth in a chamber-orchestra-size string body.  But, those issues aside, this was a super-charged 5th, the wind solos were almost all spot-on, the tympanist gave the kind of assertive performance, especially in the finale, that really propelled the music forward.

I found myself quite caught up in it, thinking as I was leaving the hall that no matter how many times one hears this piece, or how many other pieces command one’s allegiance, after a really good performance one feels like this symphony is the greatest ever written, the most perfect in form and expression, the most exhilarating to hear.  There was an immediate standing ovation that was well-deserved.

My only other Mostly Mozart concert, at least as of now, will be the all-Brahms program next Saturday, which I greatly look forward to.  We don’t hear the Brahms Double Concerto very often, so it should be quite a treat.