NEW YORK — For the last 39 years, the annual summer Mostly Mozart festival at Lincoln Center has proven that few cities do classical music like New York. Natives and tourists alike flock to Avery Fisher Hall, seeking solace from the unforgiving pavement as well as a seat at one of the most rewarding cultural experiences the metropolis has to offer. The festival, which showcases the major works of Mozart as well as other pieces by his contemporaries, has achieved worldwide recognition for its grand performances by established masters. But it also prides itself as a launching pad for emerging talent, having staged the American debuts of artists like flautist Sir James Galway.

The performances, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, illustrate this commitment, as fabled British pianist Stephen Hough plays the Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 while rising star maestro Osmo Vanska conducts his Mostly Mozart debut. With music director Louis Langree, artistic director Jane Moss has been programming the festival since 1992. “First and foremost, we are looking for a certain level of virtuosity and accomplishment,” she says of selected performers. “But the second criteria is ideally artists who are wonderful interpreters of the Mozart repertoire.”

Accordingly, Hough was a natural choice, having been a regular performer at Lincoln Center for the last decade or so. “There’s an incredible subtleness to the music,” he says of Mozart’s style. “He does not show you joy and suffering always in such an obvious way. It’s hidden underneath this kind of 18th-century convention, but it’s all there.”

These nuances are fully realized in this season’s programming, which focuses on the Salzburg native’s trips to Paris, Prague, Italy, London, and Russia — common destinations for contemporary voyagers, but virtually unheard of in Mozart’s time, given the treacherous roads, dismal accommodations and ruthless bandits that rendered travel less than desirable. The music composed around the time of his relentless touring schedule is notoriously complex in form and emotionally intriguing. To better showcase the works, Lincoln Center underwent a $600,000 reconfiguration to render Avery Fisher Hall a bit more like, say, the New York jazz spot the Village Vanguard. With the removal of 11 rows of orchestra seating and the extension of the stage with 30 extra feet of blood wood, concertgoers now surround the orchestra, stadium-style.

This story first appeared in the August 18, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It is a period of music with a small scale of musical forces,” says Moss, “so we thought it would be wonderful to create a more intimate environment within the official hall.”

Thanks to the new stage’s warm reception by both audience and orchestra, Lincoln Center has opted to rebuild it for future seasons, giving Mozart the fitting tribute he is certainly due.

“Mostly Mozart is a New York summer institution,” says Moss. “It has an identity above and beyond a classical music series.”

As for Hough, his love of Mozart grows with each festival season. “People play Mozart as a child, and then you want to play exciting, spicy pieces with all sorts of interesting things going on,” he says with the majesty of a true virtuoso. “But then,” he adds, “you come back to Mozart.”

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