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The words "Classical Music" and "Summer" might not seem to go together in New York, but they absolutely do. People who flee the city once June rolls around are missing some of the best music of the year. New York Philharmonic Parks Concerts, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, The Chelsea Music Festival, The Naumburg Orchestra Summer Series, Bargemusic and many others are enough to make any classical music lover very happy.

The Mostly Mozart Festival is one of the oldest of these festivals, dating back to 1966 and begun as a way to keep musicians employed during the summer. After over fifty years and an explosion of creativity, the Festival venues have increased from one (David Geffen Hall) to ten other sites, and programming has expanded to include instrumental and vocal music, dance, film, talks, and opera not only by Mozart but other composers as well.

Alice Tully Hall, one of Lincoln Center's constituent theaters, is a prime location for Mostly Mozart performances. Its bright acoustics are perfect for small ensembles and soloists. It is the home of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and their recent presentation of three concerts as part of their "Summer Evenings" series was a season highlight, just as they have been for the last five summers.

The theme of musical innovation threaded through each of the three concerts. The first one on Wednesday evening July 10thpresented works by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904), and Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). John Kimura Parker was the fleet, agile and expressive pianist for the Dvorák Quartet in D major for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello Op.23, composed in 1875. This musically sophisticated piece demonstrated how much music had developed in the 58 years following Schubert's trio.

The most thrilling work on the program was Felix Mendelssohn's Sextet in D major for Piano, Violin, Two Violas, Cello and Bass, Op. 110, composed in 1824. While this seems like a rather unusual instrumentation, perhaps the piece was written for the musicians he had at his disposal. This piece brought out the best of all the musicians, particularly during the exquisite Adagio movement. Kristin Lee (violin), Richard O'Neill (viola), Cynthia Phelps (viola, who also serves as principal violist at the New York Philharmonic) Clive Greensmith (cello) and Anthony Mazzo (bass) performed at the highest artistic level and looked like they were having a whale of a time in the process.

The second concert in the series was presented on Sunday, July 14. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was on the menu this night in the form of the Sonata in B flat major for Violin and Piano, K.454 composed in 1784. Charmingly performed by Bella Hristova on violin and Juho Pohjonen on piano, the piece gave the audience a glimpse into Mozart's inner world during the Andante movement. It wasn't just a pretty introduction to the rest of the concert.

The high point of the evening, and perhaps the entire Festival, was the appearance of clarinetist Anthony McGill, who serves as principal clarinet for the New York Philharmonic. Mr. McGill performed in Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897) Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano Op.114 composed in 1891. This composition represents a watershed moment for the clarinet as the instrument was rarely heard outside of the orchestra before this point, Beethoven's famous clarinet trio notwithstanding. Nicholas Canellakis played his cello with elegiac, emotional clarity, equally matched by Juho Pohjonen on piano and Mr.McGill on clarinet. Mr.McGill's mournful, deeply yearning clarinet made this an especially moving moment of this concert.

Anton Arensky(1861-1906) is not a household name as are some other Russian composers, and he died at a relatively young age, as did Franz Schubert. While his body of work was small, it deserves to be heard. He left the Trio No.1 in D minor for Piano, Violin, and Cello Op.32, a little gem of a piece written in memory of a beloved teacher, brilliantly performed here by Mr. Puhjonen, Ms. Hristova, and Mr. Canellakis. Attacks came out of thin air and were released as one breath. Their splendid performance proved that Arensky's work should be heard much more often.

The final concert was presented on Wednesday, July 17th. Featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin and the Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello), the concert was a superb finale for this wonderful series. One of Joseph Haydn's (1732-1809) 68 string quartets opened the concert with brio yet created a feeling of great intimacy by the finale. Ms. Isbin dazzled in Antonio Vivaldi's (1678-1741) Concerto in D major for Guitar (originally Lute or Mandolin)and Strings, RV 93 from 1730. The Largo movement is perhaps one of the most famous of Vivaldi's instrumental works, so familiar that it was used in television commercials, one for a racetrack! Ms. Isbin played with elegance, restraint ,and little sentimentality, yet her performance was always graceful and interesting.

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), a composer well known to cellists, also gave the world a Quintet,No.4 in D major for Guitar and String Quartet. This rollicking, imaginative composition allowed Ms. Isbin to shine once again but also allowed the cellist to play with wild abandon. The cellist used the body of the instrument as percussion at one point. All the performers were smiling, and that's a sure sign that they were pleased with their performance. So was the audience!

The finale to the concert and to the series was Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) Quartet in A major for Strings Op.41, No.3 composed in 1842. This complex and passionate work bore some resemblance to a trio of Clara Schumann's, but it is not surprising that these two married musical giants would sometimes think alike. It was a marvelous way to finish the series.

It must be noted that each concert was either sold-out or very nearly sold-out. There is a hunger for this music, a hunger well-satisfied by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The audience was the most attentive one in recent memory; no one so much as sniffled, much less coughed, during the performance. One could actually hear the sound in the silence.

It was simply magical.

The 2019 Mostly Mozart Festival runs through August at various venues. Go to for more information and tickets.

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From This Author Joanna Barouch