While this year's expanded Mostly Mozart Festival includes international productions of dance, theater, and music, the core of the festival remains the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, under the leadership of Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director Louis Langrée. Before their season gets under way, we asked Langrée to tell us why the Mostly Mozart Festival, and its resident orchestra, hold such a special place in his heart.

Louis Langrée: I made my debut here in New York at Mostly Mozart 20 years ago. I was so impressed. Of course, you can imagine for any European musician being invited to Lincoln Center is a major event. I'm still grateful and fascinated by this very unique and positive energy. Like Mozart's music, Lincoln Center is this amazing hive where you can listen to opera, ballet, theater, concerts, and there is this amazing institution, the Juilliard School. So at any age, any step of your career or of your life, you have something to share, to learn, and to offer. This is absolutely unique.

New York City in the summer for me is completely linked to Lincoln Center, to this wonderful festival, and to being here with my family for six weeks and sharing the joy of the city, and the joy of music-making.

The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra is a perfect fit for the festival. Mozart's music embraces every genre—theatrical music, sacred music, instrumental music, chamber music—so having all of these musicians coming from a variety of ensembles is wonderful. The Mozart language is the classical language, but it addresses each of us. It's a timeless message, so having the opportunity to cultivate this year after year is something absolutely wonderful for each of us.

Being music director means being present, experiencing, convincing, searching for special colors, shaping articulation, but also using the music of Mozart to forge our own identities through these experiences. Of course I conduct many pieces, various styles, the center always being Mozart. I would say that even when I conduct the Candide Overture, it's not an orchestra performing Bernstein, it's the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with its unique palette and DNA paying homage to Voltaire. There is a very specific color and a specific Mostly Mozart touch.

"A great concert is not only making beautiful notes, it's what we can create together through the music of Mozart."

What I'm so proud of as a music director is feeling that when we make music together year after year we are not only on a higher collective level, but creating a deeper artistic identity. Another source of pride is when I see my musicians with guest conductors who sometimes ask sort of the same things, but with different words, different approaches, and sometimes ask totally opposite things. But we are so strong that it's not destabilizing. On the contrary, it's just adding to the palette of colors. The music of Mozart is so vast that actually it can embrace so many different interpretations.

Certainly the most important thing as a conductor and as a man is building relationships—with the pieces, with the music, with our audience. Feeling what they like, but also what they could like. Introducing new pieces, introducing new soloists or conductors, and having this balance about what we love, who we love, what we could enjoy, and who we would love to discover. A great festival has to offer a great balance, and I would say Mozart's music is about balance—between sensitivity and sensibility, between emotion and also structure. When you have these two elements in perfect balance, you can elevate. A great concert is not only making beautiful notes, it's what we can create together through the music of Mozart.

What I love about our audience is that they are faithful, they're curious, they're enthusiastic, and they're so close to us. Especially now, since we have the specific Mostly Mozart stage where they're closer to the musicians. I get letters, I speak with some of them on the campus. Sometimes, in Central Park: "Oh, I went to your concert, this is what I thought," and it's so wonderful to have this exchange. You can feel when there are connections. It's not the loudness of applause, it's just the quality of listening and of sharing. That's the miracle of music. That's the miracle of les rencontres humaines.

Actually, this is also something very specific about Mostly Mozart. Of course everybody's welcome and people come from all over the world, but it is a New York festival. New Yorkers love their festival. I've met several people who told me, "Oh, you're at Mostly Mozart. You know, this is the place where I heard my first classical concert." It is a New York festival for New Yorkers welcoming anyone from any part of the world.

A concert is a very special experience because you can finally forget about your life, your daily life. You sit and you listen to music, but through this music you can reconnect with your own identity. You can open the gates of your secret garden to yourself. You can express all your sensitivity thanks to the music of Mozart. So you forget about yourself and at the same time you connect with yourself. It is a very intimate experience, and at the same time you share it with hundreds of people that you don't know. This is something so unique, so special. What a wonderful blessing to be able to share that year after year, every summer here at Lincoln Center.