[The New York Times] Review: A Youthful Experiment Kicks Off Mostly Mozart

Titled “The Singing Heart,” the program, hosted by Bernadette Peters, celebrated the Enlightenment ideal of the child as a source of intuitive possibilities.

If the concept lacked focus, the musical rewards were many. For the main Mozart offering, Louis Langrée, the festival’s music director, conducted the “Haffner” Symphony — though, as was common in Mozart’s day, the movements were performed separately. In between them, the Young People’s Chorus sang folk songs and spirituals.

The program, which ended with a rousing account of Beethoven’s jubilant “Choral Fantasy,” did not quite hold together. Still, this experiment has to be seen in the context of the festival’s innovations in recent years under Jane Moss, its artistic director.

Ms. Moss brought in Mr. Langrée in 2002 and, with him, shook up what had become a calcified series. They have created a residency for the International Contemporary Ensemble, offered late-night concerts at the Kaplan Penthouse, and even presented significant opera productions. Visiting ensembles have often played bracing programs. But the main set of concerts by the festival’s orchestra has remained largely traditional.

“The Singing Heart” started powerfully, with the endearing Young People’s Chorus, standing in the aisles and at the front of the stage, singing a ravishing a cappella account of a solemnly beautiful Mozart “Kyrie,” written when the composer was 16.

Then Mr. Langrée conducted a spirited performance of the first movement of the “Haffner” Symphony. He drew crisp, buoyant playing from the orchestra in all four movements. Still, the “Haffner” did not particularly add to the ostensible youth theme. And, in truth, it was hard for the orchestra to compete with the splendid singing of some unusual folk songs by the chorus, led by Francisco J. Núñez, its artistic director.

There was the harmonically tart “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal,” and the irresistible “Três Cantos Nativos dos Indios Kraó,” which began with the choristers clapping insistent rhythms to evoke birds in an Amazon forest. The chorus brought sweetness and sadness to the spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel.” Joined by a contingent of the its youngest members, the group sang a new a cappella version, by Mr. Núñez, of “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman,” the old tune best known as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

To end Mr. Langrée conducted the orchestra, the Concert Chorale of New York, the Young People’s Chorus, six vocal soloists and a brilliant pianist, Kit Armstrong, in Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy.” Mr. Armstrong, 25, combined musical maturity and youthful daring in his exceptional playing. As an encore everyone joined in for Bernstein’s ardent “Make Our Garden Grow.”

Mozart’s symphony may have been a little overshadowed on opening night. But the festival will be making amends in its coming weeks.