I remember attending performances at the old New World space on Lincoln Road, which is now H&M, before I knew the difference between Mozart and mambo. Now, I know a little bit more about music, but every time I go to the New World Center, I learn something new from Michael Tilson Thomas and the entire New World Symphony. And this was the case when the New World Symphony presented “A Mozart Journey,” which sampled Mozart’s “core output” in a three-hour performance that left the audience wanting more, even though we got more than we could have ever imagined.
The “Journey” was divided into three parts. Part I wove the movements of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 around shorter works, such as “Adagio” from the Piano Sonata No. 12 and the allegretto from the Quintet for Piano and Winds. Part II of the performance charted Mozart’s career as a freelancer after he quit his position in his hometown of Salzburg. This part felt rich and light and effervescent as the champagne we sipped during intermissions. The most playful and evocative performance was Alexander Kienle’s “Rondo from the Horn Concerto No. 2”. Joy is the word that came to mind.
Part III took us on a journey into Mozart’s unfinished opera Zaide, which was inspired by the tumultuous period when kidnappings and enslavement of Europeans by Barbary pirates were common. Between arias, Michael Tilson Thomas guided the audience through the historical and creative process that went into this work. Thomas’ presence on stage collapsed the time and space between the audience and the musicians, the audience and Mozart, with his witty humor, candid demeanor and in-depth knowledge of Mozart’s career.
When soprano Ying Fang, who brought Zaide to life on stage, opened her lungs for the audience, this sealed the fate of “A Mozart Journey.” Her voice permeated the cool interior space of the New World Center and held us in a trance. Her flowing white dress and intense gaze into the eyes of the audience drew the audience in. She convinced us that she was for real. She slipped Zaide’s story into our ears, and the goosebumps soon emerged on the arms down my row as tears welled in the eyes of the grown men around me.
This really wasn’t a Mozart journey. It was a New World Symphony journey. It was a lecture and an immersion into the creative output of a well-orchestrated organization that keeps the classics, Mozart and the whole lot of them, relevant, alive and kicking. Sometimes a journey, or sampling of an artist’s major works throughout his or her luminous career, can run amuck and leave an audience languishing between fragments that often fail to reveal the breadth and depth of their genius. It can become tangential and hollow. “A Mozart Journey” was an extraordinary whole-hearted performance that I didn’t want to end.