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Flash Review, 8-25: Some Things Old, Some Things New
At the Mostly Mozart Festival, Vintage Morris, No Mozart

By Douglas Frank
Copyright 2004 Douglas Frank

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NEW YORK -- With "Mostly" now italicized and "Festival" all but removed from its program materials, Lincoln Center presenting "Dance" at Mostly Mozart is another recent change, instituted "probably within the past four years," according to a Lincoln Center publicist. The striking central image from last year's Mostly Mozart poster captured dancers from the Mark Morris Dance Group performing "V" in their brilliant cobalt-blue costumes. This year's poster depicts five musicians and three MMDG dancers in various positions on and around a park bench, with Louis Langree sitting in the center of them all, holding a conductor's baton. Thankfully these newer images have succeeded older ones of Gerard Schwartz grimacing while conducting the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. But what's going on here?

One answer is that audiences for classical music are aging and their numbers are dwindling. The programming and publicity teams at Lincoln Center deserve credit for their efforts to bring larger and hopefully new audiences to hear great works of classical music and see more dance at the same time.

Watching the performance by the Mark Morris Dance Group last Thursday evening at the New York State Theater was something like watching MTV. The only differences were the music was mostly Baroque, the choreography was by Mark Morris (does he have an MTV gig yet?) and the musicians performed the music live. For this alone, and for helping to employ so many fine artists, Mark Morris deserves to be called a hero. The entire evening was presented "live and in living color," just as TV shows were introduced once upon a time before any of the evening's dancers and many in the audience were born.

The program began with "A Lake" (1991) set to Haydn's Concerto for Horn and Strings in D major, which featured an outstanding solo horn performance by David Jolley. The choreography was straightforward, and closely followed the music. One could practically close one's eyes and, without much strain, imagine the dancing on stage. Behold, a fine solo dancer performing choreography set to even finer music composed for solo horn. The ensemble dancing often was not together, however, making "A Lake" a pale-blue blah.

Next was "Marble Halls" (1985) a musically close setting of Bach's Concerto for Oboe, Violin, Strings and Basso Continuo in C minor. With up to 10 dancers on stage, the absence of any partnering seemed dissonant to music that unites a chamber orchestra with instrumental soloists. One neat trick was setting three dancers in a line perpendicular to the front of the stage, one behind the other, each kicking one leg straight up while at once contracting the torso and head down, in opposite directions, creating a Momix-like effect. This piece of vocabulary was woven throughout, as the ensemble ran in an "X" diagonal-crossing pattern about six times past the point of making a point about running through many marble halls. The New York State Theater is not known to be acoustically friendly, and the amplification of Timothy Fain on solo violin (particularly) and Stephen Taylor on solo oboe did not enhance otherwise good performances. In fact, one has to wonder how accustomed these musicians were to being amplified. Passionate playing, accompanied by leaning backward and forward as passionate players do, at times brought instruments too close to microphones and nearly blew out the sound system, or at least some ears.

Following intermission came "I Don't Want to Love" (1986) set to seven madrigals by Monteverdi. The dancers wore different white costumes designed by Isaac Mizrahi, from long-flowing dresses to hot pants; one looked much like a bathrobe. They acted out the madrigals, interacting in duos, trios, and more, with Julie Worden being swung in one dancer's arms, or being carried on his hip, or standing absolutely still facing upstage with her back to the audience for the duration of another madrigal. So there! The dancers moved their feet quickly up and down, imitating the staccato rhythms of "no, no, no, no," from the first madrigal, "Non voglio amare" ("I Don't Want to Love") from which the dance took its title. Dancers also fluttered their arms or wiggled their feet in unison with trills in the music. This particular audience loved it. The biggest and heartiest cheer of all was reserved for the Waverly Consort, and deservedly so, as it performed Monteverdi's music flawlessly. The singers were fantastic!

The final work, "Jesu, Meine Freude," was set to Bach's famous motet, also of the same name. The Voices of Ascension, Dennis Keene, artistic director, took the pit in its Mostly Mozart debut. (It would appear that it takes a Mark Morris to get one of the premier choral groups anywhere, approaching its 15th anniversary, presented at Mostly Mozart these days.) The Voices of Ascension sang cleanly and professionally as always. But, apparently, without the amplification provided for the previous musicians, the ensemble sounded a bit thin in comparison (it had to be that; the singers are strong and skilled, and so is the director). As the final movement of the motet, an especially beautiful chorale, came to a close, the dancers formed a lovely ending tableau. Although they were more separated from each other, it evoked Alvin Ailey's famous closing tableau in "Revelations."

The program notes were exceptionally complete, providing many more details about the music (including all texts and translations) than about the choreography or the dancers, Joe Bowie, Charlton Boyd, Rita Donahue, Marjorie Folkman, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Bradon McDonald, Maile Okamura, June Omura, Noah Vinson, Matthew Rose, Julie Worden and Michelle Yard.

Craig Smith held the baton and conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's (Donald Runnicles, principal conductor) in the Hadyn and the two works by Bach, and joining the Voices of Ascension were Myron Lutzke, cello; John Feeney, bass; and Robert Wolinsky, organ. The Waverly Consort performed under the direction of Michael Jaffee, who also played lute and baroque guitar, and included Gareth Morrell, tenor; Frederick Urrey, tenor; Thomas Meglioranza, baritone; Elaine Lachica, soprano; Richard Kolb, theorbo; Edward Smith, harpsichord; and Kay Jaffee, harps.

For more information on the Mark Morris Dance Group, please visit its Web site. To read about the Orchestra of St. Luke's, please click here. For more information on the Waverly Consort, please click here and for more information on the Voices of Ascension, please visit its Web site.

Douglas Frank is the artistic and executive director of the Douglas Frank Chorale. For more information, please click here.

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