Here's what you need to know about Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, which revolutionized New York City’s summertime music scene and renewed the world’s appreciation for one of Western music’s greatest creative minds.
What's in a name?
"Mostly Mozart" was coined in 1970, but the festival was initially called Midsummer Serenades: A Mozart Festival. It was an immediate hit, drawing more than 50,000 people to what was then known as Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall).
Image: Program from the inaugural festival in 1966
Mostly Mozart Goes to Washington
On July 8, 1981, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin took its show on the road and performed at the White House for a special audience that included President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. The orchestra gave the first American performance of Mozart’s Symphony in F major, K.19a (Anh. 223), a work from Mozart’s earlier years discovered long after his death.
Image: President Reagan introducing the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, 1981
The Festival Goes Global
Mostly Mozart calls Lincoln Center home, but the Festival Orchestra has traveled far beyond the Upper West Side. For many years, the festival’s resident orchestra performed all over New York State, including stops in Oyster Bay, Utica, Schenectady, and Binghamton. The Festival Orchestra has also appeared at Tanglewood, Ravinia, and the Kennedy Center, and from 1991 to 1999, it traveled to Tokyo, Japan, for annual performances.
Image: Banner advertising the 1991 appearance of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in Japan
Mostly Mozart, the Beer
In honor of the Festival Orchestra performances in Japan, Sapporo beer made special commemorative beer cans for Mostly Mozart.
Image: Commemorative Mostly Mozart beer cans, 1996
Late Nights at Mostly Mozart
The "A Little Night Music" series, a popular component of the festival, dates back to 2004, but it has roots in the festival’s first summer in 1966. There, special "Mozart at Midnight" concerts took place at Philharmonic Hall with a full orchestra and conductor Allan Miller.
Image: Sol Gabetta performing in a late night concert, 2015
Getting Your Start at Mostly Mozart
Scores of artists have made important debuts at Lincoln Center’s annual festival, including the first U.S. performances by Sir James Galway (1978), Mitsuko Uchida (1985), and Cecilia Bartoli (1990), and the first New York appearances of conductors Michael Tilson Thomas (1970), Susanna Mälkki (2008), and Yannick Nézet-Séguin (2009), who was recently named the next music director of the Metropolitan Opera.
Image: Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, 2009
Salieri in Mozart's Shadow at Lincoln Center
Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus (and the Academy Award–winning film in 1984) renewed the public’s interest in Antonio Salieri, thought to be a rival composer to Mozart. Lincoln Center tapped into that interest with performances of music by Salieri and Mozart at the 1981 and 1985 Mostly Mozart Festivals.
Image: Mostly Mozart audience (undated) in what was then called Avery Fisher Hall
New Works at Mostly Mozart
Mostly Mozart celebrates the eternal genius of its namesake composer, but it also maintains a strong commitment to the music of our time, part of the festival’s maverick spirit. In recent years, the festival has showcased important new works from composers such as John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, George Benjamin, Osvaldo Golijov, and Magnus Lindberg, as well as choreographer Mark Morris. The International Contemporary Ensemble, artists-in-residence since 2011, have performed works by more than 30 composers and premiered 50 new works in 2016 in honor of the festival's 50th anniversary.
Image: The New York premiere of John Adams's opera A Flowering Tree, 2009
Mostly Mozart Immortalized
Over the years, the festival's popularity has been reflected in several cultural touchstones, including a Peanuts cartoon strip, a New Yorker cover illustration of a cat wearing a Mostly Mozart T-shirt, and an Al Hirschfeld graphic featuring artists such as Heinz Holliger, Gerard Schwarz, Alicia de Larrocha, Pinchas Zukerman, Yo-Yo Ma, and others.
Image: A collection of Mostly Mozart Festival pins
In 1966, Lincoln Center created a special pin with the words "Mozart Forever" to convey the celebration of his timeless music at the first festival. The pin was so popular that new iterations were created in the years to follow, becoming a longtime festival tradition and favorite. A brand-new pin was made in 2016 to celebrate the festival's golden anniversary.
Image: The first Mostly Mozart pin, 1966