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Welcome salute to France during Mostly Mozart Festival

One would have thought that France would have been more visible in all the Liberty Weekend celebrations. Without France, America would not have had a Statue of Liberty to fete over the long weekend. But American patriotic fervor (of a sort) was allowed to swamp recognition of France's presence -- and present!

Happily, ``France Salutes New York'' has just gotten under way here, and it lent an uncommon elegance to the opening night of the '86 Mostly Mozart Festival (MMF).

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I was disturbed by certain aspects of the Liberty Weekend festivities. When did Las Vegas sensibilities take over as the only acceptable image of American entertainment? The opening and closing ceremonies, and to a great extent, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra's Americana Concert, were all encrusted with Vegas glitz that seemed to be utterly disproportionate to its real place in the cultural and entertainment profile of this remarkable country.

It is as if we now must feel, as Americans, that big and gaudy isn't better -- it is everything. Do Americans really believe, as we were told countless times throughout ABC-TV's extensive coverage, that Americans are happiest only when being more ostentatious than anybody else? Or, more to the point, was that stance a defense mechanism to explain why so much of the entertainment for Liberty Weekend misfired?

Please understand that I love razzle-dazzle -- in its place. Some of the Vegas glitter that has crept into Broadway, onto TV, into extravaganzas like the ``Ice Follies'' makes for super entertainment. But there is much diversity in our melting-pot culture, and I don't think 10-minute Elvis tributes, and Frank Sinatra in terrible voice, and a few jazz greats swamped in a sea of extraneous sounds in Giants Stadium give a fair cross-section of that diversity, and that stupendous talent.

The classiest event was, not surprisingly, the New York Philharmonic's free Central Park concert, which attracted more than 800,000 people. It was handled by people who know the classics. Angela Lansbury looked ravishing in her red gown; she and Kirk Douglas were natural, but elegant. We were regaled with an array of talent one would normally have to pay $250 a head in a charity gala to hear. The program was popular without pandering. Nothing was coated with sugar or wrapped in tinsel to make it seem more palatable.

So much more could have been done throughout the weekend in this vein.

Instead, the paranoia about losing TV viewers once again became the obvious factor here -- give them the big names and a bland, loud, gaudy style, to keep the maximum number of viewers happy. The ratings may prove the decisions to have been the right ones -- for mass viewership. But somehow I think the philosophy behind these events sold Americans short, by refusing to pique our basic curiosity and fundamental pride in the variety of the very best this country has to offer.

And what about France? All but forgotten, after French President Fran,cois Mitterrand had his say on opening day. But that country is having its turn in New York this week. The opening Mostly Mozart program Monday featured works composed by ``Amadeus'' either for or during his second (unsuccessful) stay in Paris. The Paris Opera Ballet opened last night at the Met; today at 12:30 high-wire artist Philippe Petit walks from the top edge of the New York State Theater to the top edge of Avery Fisher Hall. On July 14, the New York Philharmonic celebrates Bastille Day in another free Central Park concert, this one conducted by James Conlon.

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How unusual to see so much black-tie attire at a Mostly Mozart gathering and so much squirming. I'm sure neither the dress nor the concert was the cause, but rather, the brand new, acoustically correct but singularly uncomfortable seats in Avery Fisher Hall.

The varied and festive program boasted a lovely redition of a Flute and Harp Concerto (K. 299), performed by Carol Wincenc and Heidi Lehwalder respectively. The treacherous concert aria ``Popoli di Tessaglia -- Io non chideo, eterni dei'' found coloratura soprano Erie Mills in good form despite a few flatted notes, and two raspy high G's.

Throughout it all, including the music from ``Les Petits riens'' and the Symphony No. 31 in D major (``Paris''), music director Gerard Schwarz offered the usual sort of rich-toned, supple, and vibrant musicmaking we all are in danger of taking for granted.

Thanks to Mr. Schwarz, the orchestra is now a consistently first-rate ensemble, and the festival -- with its fine mix of the usual and unusual -- is truly an important summer-long New York event.

As I perused the program, something caught my eye as surely as the aforementioned Vegas glitz. There, near the top of the program page, were the words ``Made possible, in part, by an important grant from the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc.''

``Important grant?'' Isn't any grant worth acknowledging near the top of the program page ``important''? Why then credit New York Telephone's substantial underwriting with a pristine ``sponsored,'' without adding, say, a ``significantly''? And what about the lesser grants lumped at the end of the program?

Further into the program, I discovered that MMF rates its ``friends'' -- ``fast'' if the gift exceeds $1,000, ``close'' if $500 or more, ``good'' if between $100 and $499. I'm sure this is all part of a well-intended drive to honor major grants, as well as to take the traditional snob value out of the words ``patron'' and ``donor.'' Nevertheless, this sort of public rating will give all MMF's loyal friends something to think about next time they reach for their checkbooks.

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