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A nine-year-old impresses America -- 216 years later; Mostly Mozart in Washington

The orchestra conductor, wearing a royal blue T-shirt emblazoned "Mostly Mozart," sits down at the harpsichord and coaches his musicians before the American premiere.

"Think nine years old," says Leonard Slatkin, the conductor. He pauses. A long retard. Then he adds, "An intunem nine years old." The musicians smile and almost skip into a Kennedy Center rehearsal of a musical treasure missing for the last 216 years, the Symphony in F. K. 19A, which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote at age 9.

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It might have curled Mozart's peruke to see the 40 members of the orhestra in rehearsal, all in their Mostly Mozart T-shirts, strumming, bowing, blowing, and tootling away as their conductor played a tinkly 20th-century harpsichord made in Washington, a city in a nation that didn't exist when Mozart was 9.

Conductor Slatkin slipped away for a few minutes to talk about the missing symphony, and its composer. He had flown in from San Francisco that day, grabbed the score, and started rehearsing it" ad lib." It surprised him. "When I started playing it I realized it wasn't only a novelty, that I really liked this piece of music, that it's very good. And for age 9, it's great!" But it is not, he has emphasized, a "minimasterpiece."

"His humanity. . . . He was a man of the people. . . . The music that Mozart wrote in his time was as popular as rock is popular in our time. . . . He wrote music that was intended for mass consumption." Slatkin also mentions sublimity, the spirit of joy, and the infinite variety of Mozart's music, which have drawn listeners down through the centuries.

In his film of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Ingmar Bergman does a slow pan of the rapt faces in an audience listening to that opera. The wonder of the scene is that each face bares a different emotion, ranging from anguish to ecstasy. Every person hears his own music. Mozart is the Mona Lisa of the concert hall -- we don't understand the mystery of his expression, we only know how much it moves us.

The Mostly Mozart Festival continues to fill up about 100,000 seats a season at New York's Lincoln Center, where it all began in 1966. It also sells buttons , mugs, those T-shirts (at $7 a clip), beach towels, book covers, pencil, coasters, and tote bags.

How does a conductor like Leonard Slatkin feel about the commercialization of Mozart? "At first I used to cringe from it, then I thought, if it helps to bring Mozart closer to more people, it's all right whatever you do, on TV, on billboards. When you walk into the concert hall, that image disappears for everybody, and only the music and performers are there. . . ."

When the audience walked into the concert hall at Kennedy Center the night of the American public premiere, the T-shirts were gone. On stage, the orchestra was decorously dressed in evening clothes, with a white summer jacket for Maestro Slatkin as he conducted from the harpsichord.

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Mostly Mozart's success in New York has resulted in the idea's being exported: San Francisco has its own version, the act has now gone on the road to Washington, and Mr. Slatkin -- who is music director and principal conductor of the St. Louius Symphony -- suggests St. Louis may soon see one.

Now what happens to the Wunderkindm symphony? Will the festival orchestra cut a record of it? Bill Lockwood, director of the Mostly Mozart Festival, grins and says, "It would be wonderful if some record company would ask us."

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