IT NEVER CEASES to astonish me that when ghouls like Brian Wilson come to town with their string orchestras, every hipster, proto-hipster, post-punk, music nerd, nebbish and know-it-all flocks to the show like a self-flagellating pilgrim crawling to Mecca. And yet every time I mention that a fully loaded symphony is going to be blasting away at Beethoven’s Ninth or The Rite of Spring, everyone within earshot runs for the hills as if I were talking about Styx or Kansas or some other aural atrocity.
I suppose I can be somewhat evangelical preaching the joys of jazz and classical to dyed-in-the-wool rockers, but I find it disturbing on a very adult level that I can hardly get my posse of old-school garage and R&B fans to even consider listening to Charles Mingus, even though they’re all ga-ga for Ray Charles, and really, what’s the difference, except Brother Ray is just that much more polite? No, rock ‘n’ roll orthodoxy demands that to make the kind of music that normal people like, one needs a guitar, preferably an electric one.Which makes about as much sense as saying that to have a circus, you need to have a lion, even when you are standing in a tent full of tigers and tightrope walkers, contortionists and freaks and dwarves lining up to be shot out of cannons.
Whenever I start braying about the joys of jazz and classical, the biggest question I always hear is, “But what if I don’t get it?” To which I respond, “Well, Mabel, what if you do?” The Mostly Mozart Fest, now in its 43rd go-around at Lincoln Center is a nice opportunity to take the first steps away from the Marshall stacks and toward something that may actually nourish brain cells rather than destroy them.
This is no joke. No one loves an AC/DC concert more than I do, but there is a certain healthy joy to hearing un-amplified music. Opening night at Mostly Mozart was a good indication of what the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra is capable of. A moderate-sized group (about 30 musicians in the string section), they don’t have enough artillery to blow your hair back the way the full-sized philharmonic will, but they are very capable of stepping on the pedal and giving you a none-too-cheap thrill.
Opening night saw conductor Louis Langrée lead the MMFO in a remarkably dynamic and yet sympathetic version of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, pushing the group behind soloist Leif Ove Andsnes, and still giving him the perfect space to breathe fresh life into the frisky right-hand runs. If you thought Malcolm and Angus worked well together, this type of interplay will blow your mind—especially if you smoke a little of that “classical gas” beforehand, which I heartily recommend. (Seriously. Why anyone would think that it is OK to get high for an idiotic rock show, but not a ride with Mozart and Beethoven is beyond me.Trust me, the rewards they can deliver to even the most subnormal pothead far outweigh the contrived angst, synthesizer farts and cheap special effects upon which hacks like Roger Waters have built their careers.)
Opening night at MM ended with Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”), one of a handful of symphonies of which I gleefully describe as a motherfucker. Big and sweeping and grand, triumphant and hummable, the Mostly Mozart Orchestra was able to get inside of the whole thing and sell the music—they didn’t rely on the music to sell them, which is the hallmark of a good group, especially when wrestling with warhorses like Mozart’s later symphonies. Or Led Zeppelin.
The Mostly Mozart Festival continues through Aug. 22 and features intimate “A Little Night Music” performances, as well as a battery of great concerts at Avery Fisher Hall. Highlights not only include the Festival’s namesake and his near-contemporaries, but also A Flowering Tree, a new opera from John Adams. Closing night’s concert is Haydn’s Creation, which is everything the soundtrack for the atomic bomb cult in Beneath the Planet of the Apes should have been but wasn’t.
> Mostly Mozart Festival
Through Aug. 22, various locations at Lincoln Center, for a complete schedule visit www.lincolncenter.org.