July 27, 2016

Celebrating 50 years of Mostly Mozart

One sure sign of summer in New York City is the opening of the annual Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.  Begun in 1966 as "Midsummer Serenades", it was billed as America's first indoor summer music festival promising first class music at affordable prices in a casual setting.  At that time the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were seldom performed in the United States and this was an opportunity to present the music to a new audience while utilizing the newly built Philharmonic Hall.  The idea was an instant success with an astonishing 54,000 tickets sold in the first season.

Fifty years later Mostly Mozart continues to draw a devoted entourage, not just of concert goers but musicians, singers and dancers who opt to spend their summers in New York performing at this prestigious festival.  And, as Mozart's compositions have become better known and loved by American audiences, the content has diversified to include works by other composers of his genre as well as contemporary music and dance inspired by the master.

The Festival's Golden Anniversary season kicked off on Monday evening with the world premiere of "The Illuminated Heart" a specially commissioned concert composed entirely of arias from Mozart's operas.  Last night I had the great pleasure to be in the audience at David Geffen Hall for the second performance of this concert and was transported for every one of the ninety minutes of music.

Nine world class singers comprising four sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, a tenor and two baritones, backed up by the outstanding Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with conductor Louis LangrĂ©e on the podium, performed arias from seven Mozart operas.   Chestnuts like "Soave sia il vento" from Cosi fan tutte and the Act IV Finale "Gente, gente all'armi all'armi!" from Le nozze di Figaro alternated with lesser known but equally sublime works such as "O smania! O Furie!...D'Oreste, d'Aice" from Idomeneo and "Parto, party, ma tu, ben mio" from La clemenza di Tito, giving the audience a fabulous snapshot of the range of Mozart's repertoire.

Complimenting the marvelous singing was an inventive semi-staged set by director Netia Jones.  Through the magic of video technology, Ms. Jones transformed an all white set within the stage into a raging sea, a sky filled with puffy clouds, or a row of doors, each with the English translation of the libretto discretely projected onto the rear wall.  The props consisted merely of a white chair, a white ladder and a white birdcage, while the singers were clad in simple but appropriate costumes and gowns that drew both on 18th century tradition and 20th century couture by Charles James.  It was a simple but extremely effective setting for this showcase of Mozart's musical language.

While some critics complained that "the performance didn't teach us anything about Mozart that we didn't already know", I found "The Illuminated Heart" an absolutely magical evening of wonderful music by one of the greatest composers of all time.  Who could ask for anything more?!

July 14, 2016

Introducing the NEW Met Breuer!

When the Whitney Museum of American Art decamped from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to its new, Renzo Piano-designed space in the Meat Packing District, its former Marcel Breuer building was left vacant and looking for a new occupant.  In a remarkable example of institutional recycling, an agreement was quickly reached with the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art which acquired the Bauhaus edifice to house its expanding collection of Modern and Contemporary art.  Last March, less than a year after the Whitney's move downtown, The Met Breuer officially opened as the third Manhattan location of this magnificent museum.

Partly because I have been traveling a lot this year, and also to avoid the initial crowds, I did not visit the "new" Met until just this week when I walked over to Madison Avenue and 75th Street as I had done many times before to go to the Whitney.  From the outside very little had changed, save for a red ceiling on the concrete canopy that covers visitors from the street to the entrance.  Once inside, only the new signage signaled a change in ownership - everything, from the slate floors, the "honeycomb" ceilings and the trapezoid shaped windows was exactly the same as it had always been.

Curiously, the inaugural exhibition "Unfinished:  Thoughts Left Visible" does not fall entirely within The Met Breuer's focus on 20th and 21st century art.  Rather, it presents 197 works created in the 16th century...

 Perino del Vaga
"Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist", 1528-30

17th century...

Peter Paul Rubens
"Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry", c. 1628-30
18th century...
Anton Raphael Mengs
"Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento,
duquesa de Huescar", 1775

19th century... 

Vincent Van Gogh
"Street in Auvers-sur-Oise", 1890
and finally 20th century...

Jackson Pollock
"Number 28, 1950", 1950

with the one common thread being - they are all either intentionally or unintentionally unfinished.
In "Unfinished:  Thoughts Left Visible", the curators pose the question "When is a work of art finished?" and we, the visitor, are left to fill in the blanks.  Sometimes a work is not finished on purpose, non finito, and the artist leaves the end up to the viewer's imagination as in this portrait of Saint Bartholomew by Rembrandt...

Sometimes life's circumstances prevent the work from being completed as in this obviously unfinished portrait of Vietnam soldier "James Hunter Black Draftee" by Alice Neel painted in 1965 just as the sitter was called up...

And sometimes, the artist just got "stuck" and couldn't find the right way to end what he or she had begun as in Louise Bourgeois "Untitled No. 2", 1992...

All in all, "Unfinished" provides a unique perspective art throughout the ages.  Not only does it force the question of what makes "art", "art", it also impresses upon the viewer just how difficult it is to create a work of art.  "Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible" was a very clever choice for an inaugural exhibition and we hope it sets the standard for what's to come at the new Met Breuer!