Monday, September 19, 2016

In HBO’s ‘The Night Of,’ Composer Jeff Russo Scores Emotions into Vision

With haunting anticipation, Jeff Russo’s opening theme for HBO’s eight-part summer series The Night Of widens with each of its deliberate, rhythmic reiterations. Musical sustenance and orchestral tonal layers are gradually added to the cello’s persevering melodic lines, giving a voice to the dark mood that will escort the inner turmoil of its central characters throughout the show’s unhurriedly evolving plot: musical drama unfolding at the vanguard of cinematography.
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Russo’s score is geared not only to enhance the cinematic frames, as do many film scores, composed afterwards to fit the screen’s visual fabric. An original composition in its own right, it was actually written before the film, as Russo explains: “The musical development of the film really started with the main theme, which I wrote first and sent to Steve.” Steve Zaillian, director and writer/producer of The Night Of, is best known for his work on Schindler’s List. Together with Richard Price of HBO’s The Wire, Russo and Zaillian developed the series loosely based on the BBC series Criminal Justice.
jeff-russ-powerRusso, a self-taught musician and founding member of the rock band Tonic, has become a much sought-after collaborator in creating original film scores, a genre he took to immediately after working with Wendy Melvoin, a former Prince collaborator. The first time he tried his hand at writing a film score was in 2005, when he composed for the short filmVesting by Mason Bendewald.
Since the Emmy nomination for his elegant score for season one of the FX series Fargo, Russo has become a household name in the industry. Currently his soundtracks are featured on several recent projects in production or on air, among them CBS’s American Gothic. But it seems that on the production of The Night Of, things went a little bit differently than they usually do.
For the first time in his orchestral recordings, Russo introduced the so-called “European” orchestral set-up, which he continued for American Gothic. “That idea was born from wanting melodies to happen on the left and right side of the stereo spectrum, enveloping the listener,” he says. The set-up meshes effectively with the intimate atmosphere surrounding The Night Of’s characters and moods.
What also seems quite an exceptional circumstance, and a deviation from the usual process of show development, is that the music became a profoundly integral part of the show’s narrative, influencing the film’s atmospheric pace from the beginning. “My first pass at that piece is what you actually hear in the main title of the show. They cut the picture to fit the music, which is actually quite rare,” Russo says, explaining that “[a]s the themes progressed, the atmosphere of the show was taken from those themes, and the underscore was derived from most of these recordings.”
Used sparingly, the soundtrack’s thrums symbolize the unsettling, slow reality of prison life, or everyday life itself, supporting visually obscured camera angles that leave room for subtle perception, rather than head-on shots that create a glaring cinematographic reality. “Using silence as score can help make the music way more effective, especially in long pieces,” Russo says. The score excels in its atmospheric overtones, echoing the mysterious and questionable multifaceted layers of justice and reality that The Night Of observes.
The cello, one of Russo’s favorite instruments, recurs in a stirring tone of voice reflecting the humanity of the show’s emotionally complex characters. Sometimes a character is accompanied by an associated instrument upon entering a scene. For example, the cello’s melodic sound accompanies the initially naïve-appearing Pakistani-American college student Naz, played by Riz Ahmed, whose one night out on the town in New York City leaves him on trial for the brutal murder of a young woman.
More high-pitched, the violin is the instrument chosen to mark the entrance of Naz’s trial lawyer, John Stone, played with high intensity by John Turturro. Though it was a passion part intended for the late James Gandolfini, Turturro makes it his own.
While the film is suggestive in its take on societal injustices like racial discrimination, the devastating conditions of prison life, and the slow-moving wheels of the justice system, it does not offer solutions. Open-ended even in its trial conclusion, The Night Of relies on its characters’ humanity for plot development.
More than Naz, whose inner turmoil leaves him to appear more hardened with each episode, it is those around him, like Stone, whose character growth we latch onto as viewers, feeling the impact of his empathy for Naz and his perception of his client’s innocence vicariously as viewers. With extraordinary emotional depth and charisma surpassing his own character’s limitations and grievances, Stone argues that justice is a perspective of our emotions and our humanity; he feels compelled to fight for Naz’s innocence the moment he laid eyes on him: “At the end it’s about how you feel about this man,” says Stone in his concluding argument, pleading for empathy from the jury.
Emotions run high in The Night Of, making it the kind of special collaboration Russo can best relate to: “I am an emotional guy myself,” he explains. “The whole film is edited around the beats of the music. Sometimes music is a vehicle to cover up visual scenes in the film that did not work. This was not at all the case here,” he says.
“I was inspired by the narrative and the exceptional creativity of the film’s maker, [and] I always feel that music is the emotional center or heart of any narrative. In the case of The Night Of, it was important for the producers that the music not comment on the narrative but simply support and be omnipresent, as if to be looking down from the scene from above. I could feel that [approach] was necessary from my first viewing of the show.”
The result is a show that flawlessly weaves together its visual and audial components, which speaks to the mutual inspiration of the collaborative experience that was its creation.
The Night Of play the theme song

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Retrospective: MOSTLY MOZART 50 Years - Making the most of Mozart's genre bending spell

Capture by Tony Leonardo Cimino
An integral part of the ever mounting - and at times interlacing - culture cycles initiated by Lincoln Center, the festival, now middle-aged, expands its efforts to rejuvenate and expand its communal presence. Exploring the impacts of varied programs and settings in different social contexts, the festival creates diverse concert experiences, with broader accessibility and intimate immersion in music its goals.
Keeping with tradition, today’s Mostly Mozart avoids fixating on preconceived definitions or micromanaging its contextual relevance. It’s a continuous balancing act between established repertoire and innovation.
Instead, there is Mozart – programs densely packed with featured works across his vast opus of instrumental, choral and operatic works, performed by the festival’s own Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under its artistic director Louis Langrée, with famed soloists and guest ensembles – and then there is everything else.
Over the years the festival has extended its realm from early Baroque to new commissions – 50 presented here by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the dynamic ensemble in residence – with one premiere each year, perhaps to make up for times when contemporary music had no place at Lincoln Center. Many of ICE’s micro-concerts, dispersed throughout the campus and the duration of the festival, set out to engage new audiences with free, public appearances.
The festival’s muse transcends genres freely without limiting each experience to a rigid context, casting a vote of confidence for each of its artistic productions and impressive artists. With programs buzzing with fluid formats, its curator, Lincoln Center’s 'Ehrenkranz Artistic Director',  Jane Moss, often succeeds in engaging with Mozart as trendsetter of an ever-evolving brand.
This article by Ilona Oltuski has been previously published by BLOGCRITICS on 9-2-16
PR for Mozart: souvenir buttons from the library’s collection, courtesy of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Under the title “Mozart Forever,” an exhibit at the Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center accompanied the Mostly Mozart festival’s 50th anniversary, running the length of its five week-long season from July 22 through August 27. Showcasing highlights from the festival’s history, the exhibit attests to its huge popularity and early knack for free-spirited ambiance– always without neckties – since its inaugural inception in 1966 as “Midsummer Serenades: A Mozart Festival” by Lincoln Center’s William W.Lockwood Jr. The festival was coined “Mostly Mozart” in 1970.
The goal was to fill the summertime vacancy, attracting new audiences to classical music with concerts held in informal atmospheres, and offering high entertainment value at ticket prices as low as $3.
“Air-conditioning had been the ultimate game changer, making concerts during the summer season possible for the first time,” explains Gerard Schwarz, the orchestra’s first director, now director emeritus. “Here was a chance to fill the Philharmonic Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, while its musicians went on tour, performed in parks or took their personal vacation time off.”
Harking back to the festival’s initial success, Schwarz added: “Mozart’s symphonic works were not performed much at the time, partially due to the fact that every great guest orchestra that came to town wanted to show off their full orchestra, not required in Mozart. The same was true for season programs of the New York Philharmonic – instead of using only 35-40 players in a Mozart program, they wanted to engage all of their 80-90 players, sometimes even 100 or more in a great Mahler 5th Symphony. So here was a great chance to dive into these neglected works.”
Since 1968, works by Haydn (hence the term “mostly”) and then by Handel, Schubert and Beethoven were added to the repertoire to attract more accomplished soloists and visiting guest conductors to the festival. Some of its differing forms of presentation, including popular midnight concerts and pre-concert recitals, were in place early on in the festival’s history. But despite varying presentations and additions, the festival’s repertoire maintained a focus on the wide range of Mozart’s vocal and instrumental oeuvre.
Poster ad from the library’s exhibit
Entering the Lincoln Center arena as Vice President of programming in 1992, and now Ehrenkranz Artistic Director, Jane Moss relieved Lockwood, the festival’s original founding director, bringing new aspirations along. “She always had an extraordinary vision,” says Schwarz, who had been brought in as the festival orchestra’s first full-time Artistic Director in 1982. For 20 years his mission was to craft for the orchestra a consistent musical point of view. Established in 1973, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra consisted mainly of freelance musicians from the New York Chamber Orchestra.
“The musical goal at the time had been to enjoy traditional masterpieces on a high artistic level, not to challenge the status quo,” says Schwarz. “That was what I was hired for, and what’s wrong with a really great performance of a traditional masterpiece? At the time, no one looked for avant-garde, but we did want to expand beyond performing all Mozart concerti and symphonies into performing works by composers who influenced Mozart, like Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian), who wrote the first concerti that Mozart orchestrated, and in turn, show works by artists who had been influenced by his work, like Tchaikovsky in his first concerto.”
Under Schwarz’s orchestral leadership, the festival expanded its name recognition and added to its long list of prominent performers, including, according to Schwarz, “Zukerman, Perlman, Mintz, Starker, Bronfman, Ax, Watts, Emerson String Quartet, Joshua Bell, and Cecilia Bartoli,” who “had her debut” at Mostly Mozart. The orchestra’s performance schedule also broadened beyond the summer festival, growing to include visiting tours around the United States and abroad.
From the library exhibit: Al Hirschfeld sketch of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Gerard Schwarz conducting 
In Salzburg, the epicenter of everything Mozart, the answer to the quest for contemporary programs required a separate response to the traditional festival spectacle: its contemporary music festival “Dialogues,” initiated in 2006. New Yorkers, by contrast, consistent with the city’s diverse canon, enjoy their Mozart fare in a conglomerate of sundry collectives, old and new. Today, contemporary music does not faze New York’s traditional classical music loyalists; it has been accepted as part of our broad artistic curriculum, begrudgingly by some, but by others with open arms, among them fervent critics and the festival’s curator, Jane Moss.
Schwarz, who has worked on Mostly Mozart with Moss for 10 years, describes Moss’s aspirations: “Replacing Lockwood at Mostly Mozart, Moss had a very broad vision and was more interested in cutting-edge new music. She originally had made the case for a new platform, ‘The Lincoln Center Festival,’ at Avery Fisher Hall (renamed in 1976) for its upcoming renovation in 1993.” Instead of executing her vision at the reign of the new festival, though, it was famed critic and arts administrator John Rockwell who took on the new festival’s leadership until 1998, followed by its former executive director Niguel Redden, who built the Lincoln Center Festival into a showcase of diverse performances of international theater, circus, and music, with artists and productions from more than 50 countries.
Louis Langrée speaks at “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra” at David Rubinstein Atrium. Photo: Ilona Oltuski
Moss, besides curating further themed initiatives like the White Light Festival, which made use of Lincoln Center’s entire complex, and other seasonal and recurring programs like Lincoln Center Outdoors, was left to revitalize Mostly Mozart, steering it towards a new and bolder brand. Following Schwarz as the orchestra’s director was Louis Langrée, who has now served as the Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director for 14 seasons.
During the festival’s free public conversation at the David Rubinstein Atrium, “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra,” audiences had an interesting opportunity to familiarize themselves with the vision of the festival’s impresario and the orchestra’s tirelessly cheery and engaging leader: “It is here, at Mostly Mozart, so many people have experienced classical music for the first time,” says Langrée, thoughtful in his charming French accent. “That’s a lot of responsibility, and at the same time a great source of delight. One never gets to perform so much of Mozart’s works at once during the concert season calendar, and it allows one to go deeper here and to discover new layers. At the same time Mozart was such a central figure of Western music; his great imagination that transcended through all musical genres made him an inspiration for the next generations.”
Moss took those thoughts a step further, claiming, with no resistance, Mozart as the innovator: an ideal fulcrum for exploring new musical horizons. “Mozart was a contemporary composer in his time. He would definitely want us to be looking at the new.”
Coming to Lincoln Center from the world of theater, Moss composed a particular coalition of genres, platforms and scenery with dramatic inclinations, each informing the others.
Photo: Jane Moss during Meet the Musicians podium discussion by Ilona Oltuski
She is not afraid to label productions more for their entertainment value than for highbrow artistic purpose; the arias-potpourri of Mostly Mozart’s opening night gala including selections from Mozart’s operas and entitled “The Illuminated Heart” is a good example.
With its great collective of performers and clever incorporation of screened images onto the stage, the gala was an introductory forum into famed Mozart melodies that was welcoming and highly entertaining if abbreviated, hardly allowing for the full, dramatic expansion of any complete version; two examples of Mozart’s fully-staged works, however, were shown during the festival’s season. 
Opera Arias Potpourri: ‘The Illuminated Heart,’ Photo by llona Oltuski
For many soloists who have made their debuts at Mostly Mozart, the festival is known as a springboard for international careers. This season’s free orchestral opening performance at Damrosch Park featured Simone Porter performing Mozart’s serene Violin Concerto No. 3.
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée, conductor, Simone Porter, violin (Mostly Mozart debut) Photographed Friday, July 22, 2016 at 7:30 PM at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center, New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine
In response to the premise that we are spoiled with star appearances but often unenthused by the anonymity of the great halls, one of Mostly Mozart’s most popular series, the intimate “A Little Night Music,” has lately taken on a sexy magnetism, attracting mostly young and charismatic individual performers to appear at Lincoln Center’s own Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. After having performed Mozart’s clarinet concerto at David Geffen Hall, exciting European clarinet star Martin Fröst, flown in with stellar piano accompanist Roland Pöntinen directly from the Verbier Festival, played for enthralled audiences who were seated cabaret-style, his alluring sounds and lithe, pied piper-like gesticulations entertaining the audience members as they sipped their wine.
Photo: Eman Hassan for the New York TImes: Clarinetist Martin Froest and Pianist Roland Pontien at Stanley H.Kaplan Penthouse - A little Night Music
Also at the Penthouse, profound Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, renowned recently as “artist-in-association” with the New York Philharmonic, made use of the attentive if short-spanned concentration of this late night session, presenting his thoughtful “New Suite,” a selection of short pieces ranging from Handel, Bach, Rameau and Couperin to Ravel, Thomas Adès, Ligeti and Barber, played through in a continuous flow during one sitting.
The New York Philharmonic recently featured Barnatan, among other artists, in a trendy concert presentation at an intimate downtown venue. Moss’s use of Lincoln Center’s Penthouse as a cool, elegant alternative is a notable, perhaps ingenious tactic for bringing the personal staging and downtown vibe of these salon-style shows home.
At the other end of the spectrum, astounding by its sheer size, stands the display of populist egalitarianism in the premiere of David Lang’s “the public domain” for 1,000 voices, performed by an amateur chorus picked from all of New York City’s boroughs. Unlike New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, who penned a gleaming review of the momentous choral performance, while watching from the balcony above the imposing gathering I failed to pick up on the intensity of this work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. In fact I could hardly hear the choral group’s many murmuring voices emerging through the hazy and steaming hot plaza.
Performance of 'the public domain' by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score
Performance of ‘the public domain’ by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score
I did, however, find the piece’s context fascinating. According to Lang: “All the texts are internet search engine auto-completions of the sentence ‘One thing we all have is our…’ which gave me a list of sometimes very personal statements, from people all around the world. I didn’t use all of them. I took out those that referred to specific people, that insulted or praised a person or group, that said anything – good or bad – about a particular religion or nationality or gender, that endorsed or disparaged a particular commercial product or activity, that were pornographic. My interest was to make a text that would seem in some way universal, a list of attributes we might all agree on, that could feel in some way universal.”
The well-organized spectacle, under the direction of choreographer Annie B. Parson and conductor Simon Halsey, is worth mentioning, as it filled the entire Josie Robertson Plaza in stands around the fountain. The atmosphere was dominated by the emotional excitement of its partaking members and viewers alike. It reminded me of the citywide Make Music events such as Make Music New York, promoting the inclusive spirit inherent in all music making and embodying a sentiment we all seem to crave, a desire to bridge our differences with our common humanity in these volatile times of social and political ambiguity and isolation.
Mostly Mozart’s increasingly open-ended curatorial vision and shifting dimensions have raised the bar of its narrative, with the new and old illuminating each other’s perspectives. Programming for multiple tastes also makes the festival easily approachable, and there is something playful about its outstretched musical and physical territorial reach. This year’s events took place in 11 different locations within Lincoln Center’s campus, with some of the events grouped to allow for sequential visits and provide an immersive effect through interrelating spatial and sonic experiences.
David Geffen Hall’s more intimate ceiling and thrust stage set up for Mostly Mozart Festival. Photo from Mostly Mozart Festival on Facebook by Ruby Lan
Lincoln Center’s setting for the festival’s smaller orchestral lineup at David Geffen Hall was altered in the 2005 season to include a temporary thrust stage over its first 11 rows, giving it a more intimate presence and making it possible for audiences to surround the orchestra. Additionally, while resembling a design feature that may be found at an airport lounge, an added ceiling structure helps to maintain the warmth of the sound, and also provides additional lighting for a softer glow during performances.
For the first time, Lincoln Center’s Public Library, under its prolific artistic producer Evan Leslie, collaborated with the festival on three occasions, coming up with fun ways to enlighten audiences. An entertaining and free Pub Quiz of “Mostly Mozart Trivia” was held at the David Rubinstein Atrium in collaboration with ICE, effortlessly engaging audiences in entertaining and educational activity.
Members of ICE at David Rubinstein Atrium, Photo by Ilona Oltuski
Leslie also hosted an interview with pianist Emanuel Ax at the library. A beloved New York musical figure and a festival fixture for many years, Ax shared excerpts of his favorite playlist ranging from opera to jazz, all drawn from a collection of the library’s treasure trove of recordings. The musical interludes were spiced up with personal anecdotes from Ax’s extensive performance career. One of the musical qualities most revered by the pianist, “the directness in music making,” came through in his own refined performance at David Geffen Hall with the eminent Emerson String Quartet of works by Purcell, Schubert and Dvořák.
The festival’s own orchestral ensemble was featured in various collectives during the season, most convincingly in smaller ensembles, but also in a truly tremendous configuration under the baton of Louis Langrée, performing the lively Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D-minor in a remarkable collaboration with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at Alice Tully Hall. Andsnes’s collaboration in Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s “Ricarcar” with a trio of musicians from the orchestra was remarkable.
Photo: Robert Altman for the New York Times, Leif Ove Andsnes (piano) with Ruggero Allifranchini (left) Ilya Finkelshteyn and Shmuel Katz at Alice Tully Hall
The generally energetic and stylistically convincing performance of the full orchestra, however, varied. In one performance at David Geffen Hall under the baton of guest conductor Matthew Halls, the orchestra’s coherence and tempi, despite joining forces with the velvety singing tone of violinist Joshua Bell, were less successful.
The author with violinist Joshua Bell. Photo by Heidi Frederick
My personal, selective listening perspective of the season’s vast catalog came to an end with “Mozart Dances” at the David B. Koch Theater. The reprise of a 2007 New York performance of the work, presenting a brilliant fusion of classical and modern dance by choreographer Mark Morris set to three Mozart pieces, had everything one could wish for: expressivity, sarcasm, eccentrics and genuine character; but most of all, the performance showed a requisite sensitivity for the underlying musical structures in Mozart, structures not easy to translate into dance.
In a public discussion between the music director and choreographer, it became obvious how the ideal rhythmic interpretation and fluctuations in tempo vary between the contexts of a music ensemble and a dance troupe. Morris used abrupt angles and ornamentations to draw a swift, often humorous aesthetic vernacular from his dancers’ bodies. He often juxtaposed graceful classical ballet movement with anti-classical positions, like en croix demi-pliés, or matched elongated grand battements with abrupt exits in which the performers stomped off the stage. The dancers’ caprice and playfulness was wholly reflected in the music, yet there was also a tangible intimacy to the score which remained inherent in the dance. Langrée adapted the execution of the score in complete coherence with the choreography with radiant support from pianist Garrick Ohlsson in both concerti (No. 11 in F major, K. 413 and No. 27 in B-flat-minor, K. 595), but especially impressive in unison with pianist Inon Barnatan in the majestic Sonata in D major, K. 448 for two pianos, performed in between the concerti.
Mark Morris Dance Group in “Mozart Dances.” Photo by Richard Termine
Over its 50 years, the Mostly Mozart Festival has built a large following, enjoyed an international reputation and presented A-list performers, all while tending to the shifting expectations of trendy New Yorkers. Under Moss and its current music director Louis Langrée, it genially circumvents the self-imposed restriction of its catchy name. One may insist on the purity of Mozart and balk at the increasing blurring of the festival’s programmatic lines, but one may also argue that Lincoln Center’s curators’ separate visions and means inspire a flow of different, invigorating productions that ultimately benefit audiences by presenting a broad range of work. It’s no secret that the festival’s growth into an internationally renowned urban cultural summit derives from its ability to keep its traditional integrity while freely allowing for conceptual expansion.

For more information about the drawing by Tony Leonardo Cimino please contact him at http://tonyleonardocimino.com/

A Retrospective: MOSTLY MOZART 50 Years - Making the most of Mozart's genre bending spell

Capture by Tony Leonardo Cimino
An integral part of the ever mounting - and at times interlacing - culture cycles initiated by Lincoln Center, the festival, now middle-aged, expands its efforts to rejuvenate and expand its communal presence. Exploring the impacts of varied programs and settings in different social contexts, the festival creates diverse concert experiences, with broader accessibility and intimate immersion in music its goals.
Keeping with tradition, today’s Mostly Mozart avoids fixating on preconceived definitions or micromanaging its contextual relevance. It’s a continuous balancing act between established repertoire and innovation.
Instead, there is Mozart – programs densely packed with featured works across his vast opus of instrumental, choral and operatic works, performed by the festival’s own Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under its artistic director Louis Langrée, with famed soloists and guest ensembles – and then there is everything else.
Over the years the festival has extended its realm from early Baroque to new commissions – 50 presented here by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the dynamic ensemble in residence – with one premiere each year, perhaps to make up for times when contemporary music had no place at Lincoln Center. Many of ICE’s micro-concerts, dispersed throughout the campus and the duration of the festival, set out to engage new audiences with free, public appearances.
The festival’s muse transcends genres freely without limiting each experience to a rigid context, casting a vote of confidence for each of its artistic productions and impressive artists. With programs buzzing with fluid formats, its curator, Lincoln Center’s 'Ehrenkranz Artistic Director',  Jane Moss, often succeeds in engaging with Mozart as trendsetter of an ever-evolving brand.
This article by Ilona Oltuski has been previously published by BLOGCRITICS on 9-2-16
PR for Mozart: souvenir buttons from the library’s collection, courtesy of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Under the title “Mozart Forever,” an exhibit at the Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center accompanied the Mostly Mozart festival’s 50th anniversary, running the length of its five week-long season from July 22 through August 27. Showcasing highlights from the festival’s history, the exhibit attests to its huge popularity and early knack for free-spirited ambiance– always without neckties – since its inaugural inception in 1966 as “Midsummer Serenades: A Mozart Festival” by Lincoln Center’s William W.Lockwood Jr. The festival was coined “Mostly Mozart” in 1970.
The goal was to fill the summertime vacancy, attracting new audiences to classical music with concerts held in informal atmospheres, and offering high entertainment value at ticket prices as low as $3.
“Air-conditioning had been the ultimate game changer, making concerts during the summer season possible for the first time,” explains Gerard Schwarz, the orchestra’s first director, now director emeritus. “Here was a chance to fill the Philharmonic Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, while its musicians went on tour, performed in parks or took their personal vacation time off.”
Harking back to the festival’s initial success, Schwarz added: “Mozart’s symphonic works were not performed much at the time, partially due to the fact that every great guest orchestra that came to town wanted to show off their full orchestra, not required in Mozart. The same was true for season programs of the New York Philharmonic – instead of using only 35-40 players in a Mozart program, they wanted to engage all of their 80-90 players, sometimes even 100 or more in a great Mahler 5th Symphony. So here was a great chance to dive into these neglected works.”
Since 1968, works by Haydn (hence the term “mostly”) and then by Handel, Schubert and Beethoven were added to the repertoire to attract more accomplished soloists and visiting guest conductors to the festival. Some of its differing forms of presentation, including popular midnight concerts and pre-concert recitals, were in place early on in the festival’s history. But despite varying presentations and additions, the festival’s repertoire maintained a focus on the wide range of Mozart’s vocal and instrumental oeuvre.
Poster ad from the library’s exhibit
Entering the Lincoln Center arena as Vice President of programming in 1992, and now Ehrenkranz Artistic Director, Jane Moss relieved Lockwood, the festival’s original founding director, bringing new aspirations along. “She always had an extraordinary vision,” says Schwarz, who had been brought in as the festival orchestra’s first full-time Artistic Director in 1982. For 20 years his mission was to craft for the orchestra a consistent musical point of view. Established in 1973, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra consisted mainly of freelance musicians from the New York Chamber Orchestra.
“The musical goal at the time had been to enjoy traditional masterpieces on a high artistic level, not to challenge the status quo,” says Schwarz. “That was what I was hired for, and what’s wrong with a really great performance of a traditional masterpiece? At the time, no one looked for avant-garde, but we did want to expand beyond performing all Mozart concerti and symphonies into performing works by composers who influenced Mozart, like Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian), who wrote the first concerti that Mozart orchestrated, and in turn, show works by artists who had been influenced by his work, like Tchaikovsky in his first concerto.”
Under Schwarz’s orchestral leadership, the festival expanded its name recognition and added to its long list of prominent performers, including, according to Schwarz, “Zukerman, Perlman, Mintz, Starker, Bronfman, Ax, Watts, Emerson String Quartet, Joshua Bell, and Cecilia Bartoli,” who “had her debut” at Mostly Mozart. The orchestra’s performance schedule also broadened beyond the summer festival, growing to include visiting tours around the United States and abroad.
From the library exhibit: Al Hirschfeld sketch of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Gerard Schwarz conducting 
In Salzburg, the epicenter of everything Mozart, the answer to the quest for contemporary programs required a separate response to the traditional festival spectacle: its contemporary music festival “Dialogues,” initiated in 2006. New Yorkers, by contrast, consistent with the city’s diverse canon, enjoy their Mozart fare in a conglomerate of sundry collectives, old and new. Today, contemporary music does not faze New York’s traditional classical music loyalists; it has been accepted as part of our broad artistic curriculum, begrudgingly by some, but by others with open arms, among them fervent critics and the festival’s curator, Jane Moss.
Schwarz, who has worked on Mostly Mozart with Moss for 10 years, describes Moss’s aspirations: “Replacing Lockwood at Mostly Mozart, Moss had a very broad vision and was more interested in cutting-edge new music. She originally had made the case for a new platform, ‘The Lincoln Center Festival,’ at Avery Fisher Hall (renamed in 1976) for its upcoming renovation in 1993.” Instead of executing her vision at the reign of the new festival, though, it was famed critic and arts administrator John Rockwell who took on the new festival’s leadership until 1998, followed by its former executive director Niguel Redden, who built the Lincoln Center Festival into a showcase of diverse performances of international theater, circus, and music, with artists and productions from more than 50 countries.
Louis Langrée speaks at “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra” at David Rubinstein Atrium. Photo: Ilona Oltuski
Moss, besides curating further themed initiatives like the White Light Festival, which made use of Lincoln Center’s entire complex, and other seasonal and recurring programs like Lincoln Center Outdoors, was left to revitalize Mostly Mozart, steering it towards a new and bolder brand. Following Schwarz as the orchestra’s director was Louis Langrée, who has now served as the Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director for 14 seasons.
During the festival’s free public conversation at the David Rubinstein Atrium, “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra,” audiences had an interesting opportunity to familiarize themselves with the vision of the festival’s impresario and the orchestra’s tirelessly cheery and engaging leader: “It is here, at Mostly Mozart, so many people have experienced classical music for the first time,” says Langrée, thoughtful in his charming French accent. “That’s a lot of responsibility, and at the same time a great source of delight. One never gets to perform so much of Mozart’s works at once during the concert season calendar, and it allows one to go deeper here and to discover new layers. At the same time Mozart was such a central figure of Western music; his great imagination that transcended through all musical genres made him an inspiration for the next generations.”
Moss took those thoughts a step further, claiming, with no resistance, Mozart as the innovator: an ideal fulcrum for exploring new musical horizons. “Mozart was a contemporary composer in his time. He would definitely want us to be looking at the new.”
Coming to Lincoln Center from the world of theater, Moss composed a particular coalition of genres, platforms and scenery with dramatic inclinations, each informing the others.
Photo: Jane Moss during Meet the Musicians podium discussion by Ilona Oltuski
She is not afraid to label productions more for their entertainment value than for highbrow artistic purpose; the arias-potpourri of Mostly Mozart’s opening night gala including selections from Mozart’s operas and entitled “The Illuminated Heart” is a good example.
With its great collective of performers and clever incorporation of screened images onto the stage, the gala was an introductory forum into famed Mozart melodies that was welcoming and highly entertaining if abbreviated, hardly allowing for the full, dramatic expansion of any complete version; two examples of Mozart’s fully-staged works, however, were shown during the festival’s season. 
Opera Arias Potpourri: ‘The Illuminated Heart,’ Photo by llona Oltuski
For many soloists who have made their debuts at Mostly Mozart, the festival is known as a springboard for international careers. This season’s free orchestral opening performance at Damrosch Park featured Simone Porter performing Mozart’s serene Violin Concerto No. 3.
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée, conductor, Simone Porter, violin (Mostly Mozart debut) Photographed Friday, July 22, 2016 at 7:30 PM at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center, New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine
In response to the premise that we are spoiled with star appearances but often unenthused by the anonymity of the great halls, one of Mostly Mozart’s most popular series, the intimate “A Little Night Music,” has lately taken on a sexy magnetism, attracting mostly young and charismatic individual performers to appear at Lincoln Center’s own Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. After having performed Mozart’s clarinet concerto at David Geffen Hall, exciting European clarinet star Martin Fröst, flown in with stellar piano accompanist Roland Pöntinen directly from the Verbier Festival, played for enthralled audiences who were seated cabaret-style, his alluring sounds and lithe, pied piper-like gesticulations entertaining the audience members as they sipped their wine.
Photo: Eman Hassan for the New York TImes: Clarinetist Martin Froest and Pianist Roland Pontien at Stanley H.Kaplan Penthouse - A little Night Music
Also at the Penthouse, profound Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, renowned recently as “artist-in-association” with the New York Philharmonic, made use of the attentive if short-spanned concentration of this late night session, presenting his thoughtful “New Suite,” a selection of short pieces ranging from Handel, Bach, Rameau and Couperin to Ravel, Thomas Adès, Ligeti and Barber, played through in a continuous flow during one sitting.
The New York Philharmonic recently featured Barnatan, among other artists, in a trendy concert presentation at an intimate downtown venue. Moss’s use of Lincoln Center’s Penthouse as a cool, elegant alternative is a notable, perhaps ingenious tactic for bringing the personal staging and downtown vibe of these salon-style shows home.
At the other end of the spectrum, astounding by its sheer size, stands the display of populist egalitarianism in the premiere of David Lang’s “the public domain” for 1,000 voices, performed by an amateur chorus picked from all of New York City’s boroughs. Unlike New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, who penned a gleaming review of the momentous choral performance, while watching from the balcony above the imposing gathering I failed to pick up on the intensity of this work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. In fact I could hardly hear the choral group’s many murmuring voices emerging through the hazy and steaming hot plaza.
Performance of 'the public domain' by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score
Performance of ‘the public domain’ by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score
I did, however, find the piece’s context fascinating. According to Lang: “All the texts are internet search engine auto-completions of the sentence ‘One thing we all have is our…’ which gave me a list of sometimes very personal statements, from people all around the world. I didn’t use all of them. I took out those that referred to specific people, that insulted or praised a person or group, that said anything – good or bad – about a particular religion or nationality or gender, that endorsed or disparaged a particular commercial product or activity, that were pornographic. My interest was to make a text that would seem in some way universal, a list of attributes we might all agree on, that could feel in some way universal.”
The well-organized spectacle, under the direction of choreographer Annie B. Parson and conductor Simon Halsey, is worth mentioning, as it filled the entire Josie Robertson Plaza in stands around the fountain. The atmosphere was dominated by the emotional excitement of its partaking members and viewers alike. It reminded me of the citywide Make Music events such as Make Music New York, promoting the inclusive spirit inherent in all music making and embodying a sentiment we all seem to crave, a desire to bridge our differences with our common humanity in these volatile times of social and political ambiguity and isolation.
Mostly Mozart’s increasingly open-ended curatorial vision and shifting dimensions have raised the bar of its narrative, with the new and old illuminating each other’s perspectives. Programming for multiple tastes also makes the festival easily approachable, and there is something playful about its outstretched musical and physical territorial reach. This year’s events took place in 11 different locations within Lincoln Center’s campus, with some of the events grouped to allow for sequential visits and provide an immersive effect through interrelating spatial and sonic experiences.
David Geffen Hall’s more intimate ceiling and thrust stage set up for Mostly Mozart Festival. Photo from Mostly Mozart Festival on Facebook by Ruby Lan
Lincoln Center’s setting for the festival’s smaller orchestral lineup at David Geffen Hall was altered in the 2005 season to include a temporary thrust stage over its first 11 rows, giving it a more intimate presence and making it possible for audiences to surround the orchestra. Additionally, while resembling a design feature that may be found at an airport lounge, an added ceiling structure helps to maintain the warmth of the sound, and also provides additional lighting for a softer glow during performances.
For the first time, Lincoln Center’s Public Library, under its prolific artistic producer Evan Leslie, collaborated with the festival on three occasions, coming up with fun ways to enlighten audiences. An entertaining and free Pub Quiz of “Mostly Mozart Trivia” was held at the David Rubinstein Atrium in collaboration with ICE, effortlessly engaging audiences in entertaining and educational activity.
Members of ICE at David Rubinstein Atrium, Photo by Ilona Oltuski
Leslie also hosted an interview with pianist Emanuel Ax at the library. A beloved New York musical figure and a festival fixture for many years, Ax shared excerpts of his favorite playlist ranging from opera to jazz, all drawn from a collection of the library’s treasure trove of recordings. The musical interludes were spiced up with personal anecdotes from Ax’s extensive performance career. One of the musical qualities most revered by the pianist, “the directness in music making,” came through in his own refined performance at David Geffen Hall with the eminent Emerson String Quartet of works by Purcell, Schubert and Dvořák.
The festival’s own orchestral ensemble was featured in various collectives during the season, most convincingly in smaller ensembles, but also in a truly tremendous configuration under the baton of Louis Langrée, performing the lively Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D-minor in a remarkable collaboration with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at Alice Tully Hall. Andsnes’s collaboration in Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s “Ricarcar” with a trio of musicians from the orchestra was remarkable.
Photo: Robert Altman for the New York Times, Leif Ove Andsnes (piano) with Ruggero Allifranchini (left) Ilya Finkelshteyn and Shmuel Katz at Alice Tully Hall
The generally energetic and stylistically convincing performance of the full orchestra, however, varied. In one performance at David Geffen Hall under the baton of guest conductor Matthew Halls, the orchestra’s coherence and tempi, despite joining forces with the velvety singing tone of violinist Joshua Bell, were less successful.
The author with violinist Joshua Bell. Photo by Heidi Frederick
My personal, selective listening perspective of the season’s vast catalog came to an end with “Mozart Dances” at the David B. Koch Theater. The reprise of a 2007 New York performance of the work, presenting a brilliant fusion of classical and modern dance by choreographer Mark Morris set to three Mozart pieces, had everything one could wish for: expressivity, sarcasm, eccentrics and genuine character; but most of all, the performance showed a requisite sensitivity for the underlying musical structures in Mozart, structures not easy to translate into dance.
In a public discussion between the music director and choreographer, it became obvious how the ideal rhythmic interpretation and fluctuations in tempo vary between the contexts of a music ensemble and a dance troupe. Morris used abrupt angles and ornamentations to draw a swift, often humorous aesthetic vernacular from his dancers’ bodies. He often juxtaposed graceful classical ballet movement with anti-classical positions, like en croix demi-pliés, or matched elongated grand battements with abrupt exits in which the performers stomped off the stage. The dancers’ caprice and playfulness was wholly reflected in the music, yet there was also a tangible intimacy to the score which remained inherent in the dance. Langrée adapted the execution of the score in complete coherence with the choreography with radiant support from pianist Garrick Ohlsson in both concerti (No. 11 in F major, K. 413 and No. 27 in B-flat-minor, K. 595), but especially impressive in unison with pianist Inon Barnatan in the majestic Sonata in D major, K. 448 for two pianos, performed in between the concerti.
Mark Morris Dance Group in “Mozart Dances.” Photo by Richard Termine
Over its 50 years, the Mostly Mozart Festival has built a large following, enjoyed an international reputation and presented A-list performers, all while tending to the shifting expectations of trendy New Yorkers. Under Moss and its current music director Louis Langrée, it genially circumvents the self-imposed restriction of its catchy name. One may insist on the purity of Mozart and balk at the increasing blurring of the festival’s programmatic lines, but one may also argue that Lincoln Center’s curators’ separate visions and means inspire a flow of different, invigorating productions that ultimately benefit audiences by presenting a broad range of work. It’s no secret that the festival’s growth into an internationally renowned urban cultural summit derives from its ability to keep its traditional integrity while freely allowing for conceptual expansion.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Guest Post by Roland Colton, author of "Forever Gentleman," offering a free copy here!

WRITING MUSIC INTO FICTION
By Roland Colton
As an amateur pianist with a passion for classical music who also loves to read great fiction, I have often lamented the dearth of novels in this genre. Several years ago, a story began to form in my mind that centered upon a gifted young pianist in Victorian England. It took me a while to put pen to paper as the task of writing a novel seemed utterly daunting. But once I had written several key scenes, I found myself carried away in an unexpected creative surge that ultimately culminated in the completion of a manuscript entitled Forever Gentleman. After sending out queries, I was delighted to receive a book contract from an east coast publisher last fall and the book was released to the public just three weeks ago.
My intention was to write a story that would appeal to those who love classical music, and particularly to pianists. However, the book is much more than a novel about music; it is also a mystery, a romance, teeming with suspense, intrigue, mistaken identities and unexpected twists and turns. My novel takes readers back in time to nineteenth-century London, a city of beauty and brilliance, and a city steeped in filth and despair. The protagonist, Nathan Sinclair, a struggling architect and gift pianist, lives in both worlds, mingling in high society while dwelling in suffocating debt and poverty.
One of the challenges I faced in writing the book, was to depict with words, the music that accompanies the story. To better accomplish this task, I attempted to learn and play compositions that taxed my ability as an amateur pianist. In the opening chapter of the book, Nathan performs Chopin’s Quatrième Ballade, a work I had never seriously considered learning, but nevertheless was one of my favorites. Working from the back forward (as I was taught to do in my youth), I gained increased respect and awe for pianists able to master that brilliant composition. Delving deeply into this and many other works helped me to better put into words the music that appears in the book.
Another challenge was to dramatize the age of musical and artistic enlightenment and the deluge of creativity that existed during the nineteenth century. In my opinion, there is no better way to travel back in time than to hear music from a bygone era. I wanted readers to relive this age of creativity and experience the music in a contemporary context, not as a distant voice from centuries past. Writing this novel also gave me an opportunity to create scenes that I, as a classical music enthusiast, would dearly love to see take place in a book or movie. One of those scenes is every amateur pianist’s dream, but one, unfortunately, which I dare not share, for fear of spoiling the surprise.
The setting of my story also coincides with the development of the modern-day piano, revolutionary in its day, when craftsmen had developed a rim-bending process that was said to give pianos a remarkable sound and character. We experience the moment through Nathan’s eyes when he first encounters the extraordinary Steinway concert grand--winner of the Grand Gold Medal of Honor at the Paris Exhibition. We observe Nathan as he caresses the stunning rosewood finish and imagine the musical vibrations the instrument will create, before he finally raises his hands above the keyboard to play Liszt’s Concert Etude in D-flat major.
Finally, I endeavored to document, in my story, the dexterity, dynamics and beauty of compositions well known today and others that have disappeared from today’s repertoire. In doing so, I attempted to select words and phrases that would re-create, in some small way, the challenges of performing the music as well as how the music stirs the listener’s ear. Writing music into fiction has helped me gain an even greater appreciation for the brilliance, imagination and creativity of the prodigious composers from the past.
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Roland Colton is a trial attorney, classical pianist, and author of the historical novel, Forever Gentleman.  For more information about Colton and his work, visit www.rolandcolton.com.

FOR A FREE GIVE AWAY OF "FOREVER GENTLEMAN" CONTACT ILONA@GETCLASSICAL.ORG

National Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall: Signing up for excellence – standing for cultural outreach

Short of the national “red, white and blue,” the National Youth Orchestra’s featured dress code on Carnegie Hall’s stage incorporated red slacks, white shirts and black blazers, with Converse-style sneakers adding a youthful touch. Despite the teenagers’ adolescent appearance, they could be judged on a rather adult level of performance as they cautiously, but deliberately held back in Mozart’s subtle virtuoso passages, so as not to undermine master pianist Emanuel Ax, known endearingly as Manny to New Yorkers. The teens later befittingly let loose in Bruckner’s bursts of amalgamated power and dexterity, energetically coaxed by the veteran leadership of iconic Christoph Eschenbach.   (photo credit:Chris Lee)
As music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eschenbach, known to enjoy working with young talent, understands not only how to lucidly direct young musicians through his communicative body language, but how to pull his audience into the elementary pathos and summits of musical drama.
Given the packed hall and high level of musicianship, providing a hopeful outlook on sustaining the future of classical music, one can’t help but wonder why it took until 2012 to reinstate pre-World War II attempts to unite young talent on a national level, specifically Leopold Stokowski’s short-lived effort to establish the All-American Youth Orchestra from 1940 until 1942.
For British-born Sir Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s leading force since 2005, the inspiration gained by young musicians partaking in such an overarching collaboration was the decisive element behind initiating NYO, which he implemented as a major community outreach program within Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute’s education wing. “It is so important to be here together with the greatest young players in the country,” he exclaims, “and the implications are manifold. We can inspire them, simply by not being a big fish in a little pond, but becoming a part of the big pond. They may decide to rise to the challenge and inspire us in turn, in whatever field they will choose. They also are our ambassadors and carry the best of our messages. It is a virtuous circle.” Most significantly perhaps, Gillinson experienced the impact personally when - as a teenage cellist growing up in Great Britain - he was given the opportunity to perform with the National Youth Orchestra there. “It was one of the greatest experiences for me, an eye opener,” he remembers, “that put music in the center of my life.”
This continued to hold true throughout Gillinson’s many years with the London Symphony Orchestra as a cellist, and then as its managing director in 1984. Before coming to Carnegie Hall, his pioneering vision brought about many new changes at LSO, including the orchestra’s installation at the Barbican Centre, as well as the establishment of LSO’s own label for presenting their live-recorded performances. Archiving and sharing live performances continue to be an important way to manifest the cultural message. Just before our meeting, Gillinson prepared his interview about NYO with WQXR, who will broadcast NYO’s Carnegie Hall performance later this year.
For his vision for NYO-USA, Gillinson closely followed the principles of the established National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Following the practices of its model across the pond, the NYO-USA residency entails that the musicians’ two weeks' preparation at Purchase College is assisted by principal musicians from professional American orchestras, and overseen by the orchestra director -- a position that varies from season to season, leaving room to engage renowned guest conductors.     (Clive Gillinson, photo credit: Peter Murphy)
NYO-USA’s first concerts were held in 2013, and the concept grew more ambitious each year. The brilliant featuring of star soloists like violinists Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham and last year, pianist YUNDI, did not only up the ante, but opened international concert venue doors to the orchestra for future summer tours. Traveling as musicians with world-renowned soloists and conductors like Valery Gergiev, David Robertson, Charles Dutoit or now Christoph Eschenbach, and serving as ambassadors abroad, has a lasting effect on the young participants, who must be age 16-19 and hold American citizenship or a green card to participate in touring. “They can’t be enrolled fulltime in a college-level conservatory or a music department on an instrumental performance major, that’s why many conductors and soloists who have performed with these young orchestral players, are so surprised by the high level of musicianship,” says Synneve Carlino, director of PR at Carnegie Hall. Two recommendations are also required in order to be considered in NYO’s nationwide, egalitarian search for excellence, in which participation is free–of–charge, no matter from where participants travel.
“New technology is partially to blame for spreading the word more swiftly,” explains Carnegie Hall’s Synneve Carlino about online applications like DecisionDesk, which facilitate the extraordinarily broad reach of modern application processes. “We put out the word and applicants can simply sign up and introduce themselves and their talent with a personal video clip,” says Carlino.
NYO-USA is a remarkable institution on its own, but Gillinson is not one to rest on his laurels. With the launch of NYO2 this year, he has already managed to broaden his original vision exponentially, catering to an even younger talent pool of musicians age 12-17 with the goal to expand classical music’s reach even further. Recognizing that musical talent forms early on, NYO2’s special agenda is to come into communities that are underserved and underrepresented in the field of classical music. This younger group of musicians will also form a natural pre-selection, potentially feeding into the orchestra, or other music-related fields. Among this year’s 109 NYO2 participants, two apprentice composers and conductors, as well as a librarian joined the program.
Passion about classical music goes beyond the narrow field of the professional performing artist. Planting the seed of love for classical music-by-doing is essential for bringing the next generation not only to the stage, but into the hall.

The tour travels on meeting Valery Gergiev for the next concert at Amsterdam's Het Concert Gebouw. (photo credit Chris Lee)



NYO-USA 2016 at Carnegie Hall:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concerto No.22 in E-flat Major, K.482  pianist Emanuel Ax
Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 6 in A major.  conductor: Christoph Eschenbach