Although established in 1974, Friends of Mozart remains one of New York’s best kept and beloved New York secrets. Each season, from fall through spring, the organization of music lovers, presents chamber music for an enthusiastic audience—ever expanding and diverse—drawn to programs from the classical era with emphasis on Mozart. Concerts include works by Haydn and Beethoven (contemporaries of Mozart), and a range of mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth-century composers.
During its 46-year history, Friends of Mozart programs have taken place in venues throughout the city, from the Austrian Cultural Institute, City University of New York Graduate Center, to the concert hall of the former Columbia Artists Management building on West 57th Street. For several years, Friends of Mozart has made its home at Christ and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on the Upper West Side. Its sanctuary has exceptional acoustics for instruments and voice, alike. Located close to Lincoln Center, the setting surprises many visitors. In the middle of a block, pulled back from the streetscape, the small building and its landscaped yard, seems akin to an English village church.
Performers appearing in Friends of Mozart concerts are drawn from the ranks of today’s leading musicians and young artists. Programs also feature virtuosos on period instruments, string and winds, as well as the fortepiano, who bring widened dimension to classical era music—qualities of lyricism, harmonic richness, rhythmic incisiveness, contrapuntal fluidity, and timbre or tone color. Because Mozart both established chamber music genres and refined forms, the repertoire is broad and varied. Members of the Claring Chamber Players, resident with Friends of Mozart since 1983, have provided revelatory surveys of the composer’s singular string quartets and quintets.
Creating opportunities for musicians at the cusp of their careers is key to the organization’s mission. Vibrant performances by pianist—and composer—Conrad Tao, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, flutist Emi Ferguson, and organist Raymond Nagem have inspired audiences of all ages. Through its Introduction Series, Friends of Mozart has provided a springboard for singers from leading American institutions, the Eastman School of Music, the Juilliard School, Yale School of Music, as well as artists from the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann program, to opera and concert hall stages throughout the United States and abroad.
Friends of Mozart came about in 1974 through a friendly inquiry from Géza Rech, the secretary general of the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, Austria. He suggested to Erna Schwerin, a New York psychologist by profession and keen Mozartean by avocation, the possibility of an organization devoted to Mozart, similar to groups in Europe to promote the composer’s legacy. The suggestion was propitious. Interest in Mozart’s music had gained impetus in the 1960’s through a series of summer concerts at Lincoln Center (then new) that evolved into the Mostly Mozart Festival, as well as composer overall: his biography, an appreciation of widened repertoire, especially the operas, and recordings. Throughout this period and for almost 50 years, Friends of Mozart has brought musicians and audiences together in the pleasure and discovery of the composer’s seemingly limitless achievement and music’s expressive possibilities.
Friends of Mozart is a non-profit organization whose concerts are supported through membership. Admission to concerts are free for the general public. Concerts for the 2020-21 season will be announced in the future, as circumstances allow. See friendsofmozart.org for information.
A hot dog stand might seem like a surprising candidate for a New York institution, but Gray’s Papaya, at the intersection of West 72nd Street, Amsterdam Avenue, and Broadway, stakes the claim: offering frankfurters and tropical fruit drinks, coconut, banana, pineapple, and papaya, for almost 50 years, 24 hours a day. It is a mere three blocks from Christ and St. Stephen’s Church. grayspapaya.nyc
Café Luxembourg, popular with Lincoln Center audiences and performers alike, has a menu of omelets, burgers, moules frites, and pasta dishes, and a bar that is a lively spot for a post-concert cocktail. cafeluxembourg.com
Le Pif, a cozy French wine bar, provides a tasty selection of savories to go with an extensive wine list, along with classics as croque monsieur and boeuf bourguignon. lepifwinebars.com
Mario R. Mercado serves as president of Friends of Mozart. As an author, he writes on music, dance, theater, and art. His work has appeared in Opera News, Travel + Leisure, and Playbill, among various publications.