Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, here, reporting from NYC in the 21st Century, and I must say, it is a bit more exciting than Vienna in the 18th. Of course, back then Americans were preoccupied with asserting their independence, and not much concerned with culture. But now - oh, my dear, the new world's innovations in music and concert presentations literally make my heart dance! I must thank Mme. Moreno for providing me with the most exciting evening I've experienced in centuries.
MM: That concert was over two weeks ago, Amade. A little late in your posting, aren't you?
WAM: My dear, I see no room for criticism on your part, considering that you have not been heard from in well over a year.
MM: Touche. Anyway, I'm happy you enjoyed the concert. I certainly did. But then, you know I always love hearing your music. Especially the work you composed during your Vienna days.
WAM: Enjoyment is too modest a word for the emotions I felt whilst observing my Act I Finale from Don Giovanni performed in a most unique venue. I believe "enraptured" would be more appropriate. I must congratulate your generation on its innovation in concert programming, particularly as it applies to my music.
MM: My friend is referring to the NY Philharmonic's concert presented in the drill room at the Park Avenue Armory on June 30, billed as "Philharmonic 360." It was surround sound without benefit of Bose speakers. And it was enhanced by lighting and living theater.
As we entered the drill room, we were greeted by a display of statues depicting women in 18th century gowns and powdered wigs. At least I thought they were statues, until one by one, they started making subtle gestures like winks, smiles, and unobtrusive head turns.
WAM: I could have sworn I saw my dear little wife, Constanze, in the milieu.
MM: The audience was seated on risers, set up stadium style, with three stages for the orchestra interspersed among them. There were also ensembles set up on a catwalk on either side of the room, as well as a group of woodwinds and percussion within our section. The idea here was to perform spatial music the way the composers originally intended.
WAM: My Don Giovanni Act I finale takes place in the scoundrel's castle, where he is entertaining a large group of guests that consists of both peasants and aristocracy. I, in my genius, succeeded in composing a score that consists of three orchestras playing simultaneously in three different styles: There was the main orchestra, usually seated in the pit, accompanying the arias and recitative, and two off-stage orchestras, one playing a minuet in 3/4 time for the aristocrats' dance of preference, the other playing a countredance in 2/4 time, popular among what you might now call the "middle class." Later, another ensemble joins in, playing a German teisch, so popular among the peasants.
One might think that this would result in a cacophony, and in the hands of a lesser composer it might well have. But I managed to weave all these disparate elements into harmonious bliss.
MM: Yes, you did, and the way the Philharmonic presented it was blissful, as well. Before the Don Giovanni, the orchestra(s) played two other spatial pieces, by Gabrieli and Pierre Boulez. While the setting up for the Mozart, the audience's attention was distracted by the living "statues," who ran into the room and performed a little theater, engaging with the audience members who were seated in the middle of the room, and pretending to sip champagne. It turned out that these people were the chorus that accompanied the soloists.
Several of the soloists were seated, unnoticed, among the audience and would simply stand up at the appropriate times for their entrances and sing as they made their way down to the center of the room.
WAM: I couldn't have staged it better myself. Well, I really couldn't, because the Vienna Staatsopera would not have allowed such intricate choreography.
MM: The evening was rounded out by Stockhausen's Groupen, written for three orchestras, and Charles Ives "The Unanswered Question," a riveting piece that features the strings and woodwinds playing pianissimo and a lone trumpet repeating its poignant question throughout. I left the Armory feeling as if I'd just had a gourmet musical meal, and so grateful to be living in New York.
WAM: Yes, my dear, I will agree that your New York is growing on me, as well. What's on for us next?
MM: Tonight, Madama Butterfly in the park!
WAM: Hmm...yes, Puccini has his charms, as well.