Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, critic — the young conductor is a great talent
One look at its plaza, where a huge disco ball shimmers in a forbidding new structure, tells you change has come to Lincoln Center. Two buildings away at Alice Tully Hall, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra maintains a modest presence, but its future is uncertain and the festival that gave it its name, a staple since the 1960s, is no longer, subsumed by Summer for the City, a great mix of genres and diverse offerings (including a dance floor with the aforementioned disco ball) seemingly designed to counter any trace of elitism.
There was little elitism when Jonathon Heyward, the 29-year-old African-American conductor who was named the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s next music director last month, led the orchestra of the festival in a program that had the kindness of a Mostly Mozart concert. of yesteryear. Not a note of Mozart was played, and the music was largely unknown, but its unfamiliarity added to the allure.
The once-popular Fifth Violin Concerto by Henri Vieuxtemps, a composer-virtuoso whom Schumann compared to Paganini, has the usual three movements, but the expansive first takes up most of the concerto’s 20-minute duration. Apparently classic proportions weren’t Vieuxtemps’s thing. The juicy romantic melodies, however, were another matter, and those he channeled into the concerto surely drew the splendid violinist Joshua Bell to the work. An outlet for Bell’s best singing sound, here sumptuously produced, the concerto is also full of technical obstacles, skilfully overcome. Alerte in partnership with Heyward and the orchestra, Bell made listening to the concerto rewarding.
Worship, a brief lyrical outpouring by Florence Price, whose music now seems to be ubiquitous, followed as an encore with Bell as soloist. The other major work on the program, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, was also accompanied by a work inspired by Beethoven Fate conquers now. An inventive six-minute tribute by National Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon, the piece pays homage to the older composer more through similarities of motivic generation, gesture and texture than an actual quotation.
Heyward’s invigorating reading of the symphony was a reminder of how polished the orchestra had become under Louis Langrée, its musical director for 20 years. Heyward, clearly a major talent, built on this in a reading that seemed determined to show what he could do with the piece, which was a lot. Sentence after sentence had something to say, though Heyward’s mastery of its architecture was not flawless. The great cadence towards the end of the coda of the first movement needed more grandeur and the second movement needed more rest. But he recognized the humor of the third movement, and overall it was hard to resist the liveliness and energy he brought to the work, even if one felt a little exhausted. Baltimore is off on an adventure.
The season continues until August 6 lincolncenter.org/series/summer-for-the-city