The Mostly Mozart Festival is growing in every possible direction.
The 52nd edition of this beloved summer event now runs five weeks—July 12 to August 12—up from four, and will present the mix of classical and contemporary work for which it has become known. But the 2018 festival will extend further into immersive experiences, performances in Brooklyn and Central Park, and, for the first time, theater. (Who better to start with than Shakespeare?)
“We have diversified Mostly Mozart over the years,” Ehrenkranz Artistic Director Jane Moss explains, “and we are diversifying it further, but Mozart does remain at the center.”
Devotees of Mozart can hear their favorite composer performed by artists ranging from celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax (July 24 and 25) to 16-year-old violin prodigy Daniel Lozakovich (August 1, 7, and 8)—and, of course, the renowned Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra led by exuberant Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director Louis Langrée.
But Mozart’s masterpieces, like his final Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”), conducted by Thomas Dausgaard (July 20 and 21), are complemented by groundbreaking productions that represent innovation in eras long after that of the festival’s namesake composer.
The 2018 festival opens on July 12 and 13 with Available Light, a work that combines music, dance, and design by, respectively, composer John Adams, choreographer Lucinda Childs, and architect Frank Gehry. Returning to New York for the first time since 1983, Available Light explores modern expressions of each discipline. Even so, they can all be seen as a distillation of classical purity. That is particularly visible in the linear clarity of Childs’s ballet steps—stripped of frills and repeated to express Adams’s score Light Over Water, for synthesizer and recorded brass.
If Available Light seems atypical for Mostly Mozart, its inaugural theater production—Shakespeare’s Macbeth interpreted by the late Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa—pushes the envelope even further. But the 1980 NINAGAWA Macbeth (July 21–25) is a balance of tradition and innovation. While rooted in the original text and employing music by Samuel Barber and Franz Schubert, the production transports the setting from Scotland in the Middle Ages to feudal-era Japan. And Ninagawa has created a staging beautiful enough to count as visual art.
The pairing of Shakespeare with Mozart is perfectly fitting, says Moss: “They are two giants in the world of classical expression.”
The festival’s expansion is part of an evolution that has been ongoing for several years, allowing ever wider room for interpreting the classical canon. And a key participant all along has been the Mark Morris Dance Group. A festival regular, choreographer Mark Morris is a musician himself and hews closely to classical music when designing movement. This year, he brings a world premiere set to Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, as well as dances using Monteverdi and Brahms, to the Rose Theater (August 9–12).
Performances in which the audience and performers share exceptional settings are popular in New York, and Mostly Mozart rises to the occasion with the wordless drama The Force of Things, an immersive installation and musical landscape set up at Brooklyn’s Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center (August 6–8). Composed by Ashley Fure, the work includes 24 subwoofers and live music played by the International Contemporary Ensemble, now in its eighth season as the festival’s artists-in-residence. In a space designed by Fure’s architect brother Adam, this music-theater experience is designed to make objects and materials part of the drama. “It functions equally as an art installation and a performance,” Moss says.
But you don’t have to go to Brooklyn to have an immersive Mostly Mozart experience, as the festival presents the world premiere of John Luther Adams’s In the Name of the Earth, a massive choral work commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, on August 11. For this free performance near Central Park’s Harlem Meer, guests will walk into the northeast portion of the park to hear some 800 singers perform a new work that honors nature.
The immersive trend also continues with La Fura dels Baus’s innovative production of Haydn’s The Creation, which features period-instrument ensemble Insula Orchestra and accentus choir. On July 19 and 20, the Rose Theater will be transformed with a 250-gallon water tank, a 20-foot crane, and an assortment of helium balloons, with which performers relate the Biblical story of creation.
But for the new concepts that today’s artists introduce onto the stage, and for the new journeys that immersive productions take audiences on, it’s hard not to feel that Leonard Bernstein got there first. As part of the celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, Mostly Mozart is presenting the landmark Bernstein MASS, directed by SF Opera Lab curator Elkhanah Pulitzer, and featuring over 200 singers, dancers, and musicians on July 17 and 18.
MASS, originally created for the 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., is already a multilayered work. Subtitled A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, it’s a unique take on the liturgical form, incorporating theater, dance, jazz, and popular music. Pulitzer adds even more by creating a fully staged theater piece, which in fact, notes Moss, is as Bernstein originally intended it. The large-scale MASS will include the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Concert Chorale of New York, Young People’s Chorus of New York City, both a marching band and a rock band, dancers, and—making his Mostly Mozart debut—bass-baritone Davóne Tines as the Celebrant.
In the context of the Mostly Mozart Festival, “Mozart” has come to represent not just a single composer and his era but the entire genre of classical music. Today, we can consider the festival “mostly classical music,” but that leaves room for plenty more—beyond classical and often beyond music itself.
Pia Catton is a writer and editor covering the performing arts. She has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and more.