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The Washington Post

At the Forever Mozart mini-festival, beloved composer makes everyone look good

Mozart in the summer seems to be a very good idea for orchestras. Critics may grouse about programming over-familiar works during the regular season, but having a focused concentration on a beloved composer in the guise of a festival makes sense — something sparkling, refreshing, familiar yet bracing. As proof of concept, the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York has been going strong for more than five decades now. This summer, to finish up its season, the National Symphony Orchestra is offering a not-quite-two-week, three-program mini-festival devoted entirely to Mozart, which began on Friday and runs through June 22, spotlighting some of the orchestra’s most beloved principals, in the hands of conductor Nathalie Stutzmann.

Stutzmann belongs to a category of artist seldom seen on the conductor’s podium: She is a singer. For all of the violinists and pianists and brass players who have become conductors — pop quiz: name two in each category — it’s hard to think of many singers who have successfully established themselves at the heads of major orchestras. (Another pop quiz: prove me wrong on that.) Stutzmann seems to be making it fly, with prestigious guest appearances at a range of starry ensembles. I confess that when she last appeared with the NSO, I didn’t love her work unequivocally, but musicians and listeners alike were much more impressed than I was, responding to her personal collaborative flair, and the NSO had no problem putting her in charge of all three concerts of this year-end treat. Her light touch and empathetic approach worked well for this Mozart; she seemed more authoritative than she did to me in 2017, and at the same time was able to animate the orchestra with a glance, a whispered phrase, a gesture, keeping a sense that there was a dialogue going on between podium and instruments, rather than an austere will     being imposed from one to the other.

 

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