Cincinnati Music Director-Designate Langrée Shows Charm in NY Concert

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By Janelle Gelfand

NEW YORK — Louis Langrée’s Mostly Mozart programs at the Lincoln Center might have been called Mostly not Mozart this season. But evidenced by the large, young audience that gravitated to Avery Fisher Hall last weekend to hear Lutoslawski and Bartok along with Mozart, Langrée’s programming concept has been a success.

The French conductor, who is celebrating his 10th season as music director of Mostly Mozart, said that he enjoys finding connections in programs such as the one I heard. I attended Langrée’s concert as part of a weekend of getting to know the music director-designate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, in anticipation of his November appearances in Music Hall.

This concert offered a glimpse of his engaging conducting style and rapport with his players. In addition, as local arts leaders ponder an extended stage for Cincinnati’s Music Hall, it was revealing to hear firsthand how a similar stage extension is working in the vast spaces of Avery Fisher Hall.

The monthlong Mostly Mozart festival presents many other events on and off the Lincoln Center campus. This year, the festival’s artistic director Jane Moss has added the delicate aural atmosphere of birdsong in lobbies. The effect brings the outdoors inside, and also hints at the many instances of birdsong in music, including Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in Langrée’s program.

The chamber-sized orchestra sat on a specially constructed 30-foot stage extension into Avery Fisher Hall (which seats about 2,360), providing “courtside seating” on all sides of the orchestra. The idea is to bring the orchestra closer to the audience in a vast, long hall. Overhead was an acoustical canopy consisting of 19 fiberglass discs, created by Fisher Dachs Assoc. of New York. The acoustical consultant for the 2005 project is also consulting on Music Hall: Jaffe Holden Acoustics of Norwalk, Conn.

Being close to the orchestra was a definite plus in the first piece, scored for an ensemble of strings. There was remarkable presence of sound. However, with no orchestra shell behind the orchestra, the setup was problematic in larger works.

Lutoslawski wrote his “Musique funèbre” (1958) in memory of Bartok. The Festival Orchestra’s principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn (who is also principal cellist of the Cincinnati Symphony) performed its haunting theme, based on a 12-tone row, with enormous beauty and feeling. Langrée led the music to a dense, frenzied climax at its center and back again in one seamless arc. The unexpected emotion of this rarely-heard piece left a deep impression.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was the soloist in Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3. I liked everything about his playing, from his elegant style and touch to his communicative gifts. Bartok’s wondrous “night music” was scintillating, both in piano and winds. Bavouzet put his phenomenal technique to work in the finale, handling its difficulties with flair.

The orchestra played with atmosphere and Langrée collaborated well with the pianist. However, the seating arrangement so far out into the hall threw off the balance, and the orchestra might have been playing in another room. Once, I heard an odd echo of a snare drum off the side wall. (The stage extension is not a permanent solution, but a test, Moss confirmed.)

Coming after Bartok and Lutoslawki, Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K. 543 was cast in a new light. Conducting without a score, Langrée led the first of Mozart’s last three symphonies with warmth, and his sense of genuine affection was vividly reflected in the music.

Yet the conductor also displayed drive and intensity when needed. He brought out the nobility of the slow movement, and the finale had an infectious air of spontaneity.

Louis Langrée returns to conduct the Cincinnati Symphony for the first time since being named music director-designate, Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 15, 17-18. Information: 513-381-3300,www.cincinnatisymphony.org.

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