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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Marches On: The 2014 Superconductor Festival Guide Part II

Three big festivals make New York more bearable in the summer.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lincoln Center becomes a cultural oasis in the summer months.
Unfortunately that's not a real palm tree. Photo alteration by the author.
The Rolling Stones once said "you can't always get what you want." For New Yorkers sweltering through summer heat, that might translate to "you can't always get out of town." For those city-bound urbanites or visitors to this great metropolis, Mostly Mozart is the ideal cure, a shelter of musical marvels in the helter-skelter of a summer swelter. (And yes, readers, I know that's from an entirely different song.)

River to River Festival (starts June 19)
Opening June 19, the River to River Festival is the free annual celebration of modern music and dance in lower Manhattan. This year's Festival features performances on Governor's Island, in Battery Park and in Federal Hall, the Wall Street building where George Washington gave his first inaugural address. The pick here: a performance of works by minimalist pioneer Terry Riley on June 20 at Federal Hall.

The climax of the Festival on June 22 with the Bang On A Can Marathon, where the contemporary music ensemble takes over the Winter Garden of Brookfield Place in an effort to shake the glass right out of its steel frames. Featured composers this year include Julia Wolfe (whose Anthracite Fields was a highlight of the NY PHIL BIENNIAL), this year's Carnegie Hall composer-in-residence Meredith Monk, and industrial music pioneer J.G. Thirlwell. Not to be missed.

Lincoln Center Festival (Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Armory, July 7-Aug. 16)

The Lincoln Center Festival is a multi-disciplinary affair offering dance, theater and all the lively arts. This year they offer two major operas.

On July 10, the Houston Grand Opera sails into the Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory--a space used with increasing frequency for the staging of large-scale classical and opera performances. The Passenger is a 1968 opera by Mieczysław Weinberg (based on a novel by Auschwitz survivor Zofia Posmysz) dealing with the horrors of that infamous concentration camp and the guilty conscience of an ex-Nazi sailing to Brazil.

This production (by David Pountney) premiered in Houston on January 14 of this year. The enormous two-level stage depicts the split aspects of the story. Set aboard an ocean liner bound for Brazil, the upper deck depicts the ship and its superstructure. Below decks lies the concentration camp itself, a dark hellish space that the characters inhabit as they relive the terrors and crimes of the Holocaust. The opera stars Michelle Breedt, Joseph Kaiser and Melody Moore. Patrick Summers conducts.

The other major event for opera lovers at this year's Festival is July 12 amd 13, when the chorus, orchestra and singers of the Bolshoi Opera offer two  concert performances of the Rimsky-Korsakov opera The Tsar's Bride. This important opera combines Rimsky's luxuriant music with the terrors of life in the court of Ivan the Terrible. These concert performances at Avery Fisher Hall will be performed by singers and musicians from Moscow under the baton of  Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

Mostly Mozart (Lincoln Center, July 25-Aug. 23)

For one month, Mostly Mozart transforms Lincoln Center into the New Yorker's ideal destination for the music of the 18th and 19th centuries, with an understandable focus on the work of a certain composer from Salzburg. Indeed, with its slate of preview concerts and post-performance events (dubbed "A Little Night Music" and held upstairs in the Stanley Kaplan Penthouse on the Lincoln Center campus) the variety of events and performances turn Lincoln Center into a kind of Tanglewood located in the middle of the urban jungle.

The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra opens outside this year with a free preview concert featuring a new work by Pulitzer-winning composer John Luther Adams. More conventional (and indoor) follows, with the focus of the festivites returning to Mozart. Extra-Mozartean excursions include a podium apperance by Osmo Vänskä (Aug. 5-6) playing Prokofiev and Beethoven, and the return of conductor Gianandrea Noseda leading an all-star cast in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. The Festival ends with the return of the Mozart Requiem to the closing weekend for the first time since 2011.

Guest artists at Mostly Mozart this year include violinists Joshua Bell and Christian Tetzlaff, pianist Yuja Wang (in her Festival debut) and New York's own Richard Goode. Also, this year marks the return of the International Contemporary Ensemble (Aug. 17-21) for their fourth consecutive summer as Artists-in-Residence.

The Mark Morris Dance Group returns to Lincoln Center (Aug. 7-9) for three performances of Acis and Galatea in a visionary new staging of the 1739 pastoral opera by Georg Friedrich Handel. This is Handel's most popular and enduring operatic work and an opportunity to hear the music of this masterful composer (played by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan) combined with Mr. Morris' terpsichorean sensibilities. The PBO will also play a concert performance of the Handel rarity Teseo on Aug. 17.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.