Go Toward the White Light

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lincoln center's jane moss has a solution for modern life

by corinne ramey

"what struck me quite forcefully was the state of people's attention in the time in which we live," said jane moss, lincoln center's vice president for programming. "with the explosion of technology, what we see increasingly is a kind of add out there, with the constant cell phones and texting and emails."

moss' solution was to create an arts festival around the theme of transcendence, based on the idea that in order to let art in, one has to empty oneself from life's many distractions. titled the white light festival, the series of diverse performances will take place through nov. 18.

"by transcendence, i mean those moments when you are outside of your own ego in some way," moss said. "not only does music offer you a wonderful aesthetic experience, but actually great musical experiences can take you to very deep places inside yourself."

white light's repertoire runs from the standard to the nontraditional. there are some works that fall squarely into what we often think of as spiritual or transcendent: the tallis scholars singing palestrina; organist paul jacobs performing bach's clavier-Übung iii; and pianist alexei lubimov playing the complete schubert impromptus.

but others are less predictable. in one unusual pairing, band antony and the johnsons collaborates with the orchestra of st. luke's, with the johnsons' violinist and guitarist, rob moose, conducting. the band will perform songs from two recent recordings, the crying light and swanlight, with director chiaki nagano's film mr. o's book of the dead projected simultaneously.

another unusual event will be the u.s. premiere of sutra, a work by belgian-moroccan choreographer sidi larbi cherkaoui, which features dancing and martial arts from china's buddhist shaolin monks.

moss said she can't pick just one favorite performance. "i love all my children equally," she said, laughing. "i absolutely love the juxtaposition. it's really, really cool."

the venues are as varied as the repertoire: from the predictable alice tully and avery fisher halls to the less-standard church of st. ignatius loyola and the church of st. paul the apostle. non-musical events-including post-concert receptions with the artists and two panel discussions-take place at at65 cafe and the kaplan penthouse.

canadian installation artist cardiff's "the forty-part motet" will be installed in agnes varis and karl leichtman studio through nov. 13. the work involves 40 speakers, which are strategically placed around the room. each plays the voice of a separate singer from the salisbury cathedral choir, performing thomas tallis' "spem in alium," a polyphonic work written for 40 singers.

the festival is slated to be an annual one. according to moss, this year's theme is spirituality because she thought it would be easier, and less abstract, for audiences to connect the spiritual with the transcendent. "spirituality isn't the only path, but we thought for the first year that would be a graspable way of putting it out there," she said.

future festivals may explore other facets of transcendence, like love, nature or even negative things like "existential despair."

from the artist's perspective, white light fits a needed niche, according to paris-based singer and musicologist katarina livljanic, the founder and voice of ensemble dialogos, which specializes in medieval chant and liturgical theater. during the festival, the group will perform the new york premiere of judith, a musical theater version of a biblical story set by 16th-century croatian poet marko marulic.

"i personally think the festival is almost the best setting for this piece, better than putting it in a specialized early music event," livlijanic said.

another modern concern, the marketing of an event, has also differed from the norm, claimed moss. "in the past all of what we did we really articulated and marketed and put in a context of the aesthetic: this is the best mozart collection you'll ever hear; this is the extraordinary collection of beethoven symphonies," she said. "this was a big departure to say that these works have a powerful intersection with your life and can have a powerful impact on you."


white light festival, through nov. 18. for complete details, visit www.whitelightfestival.org.

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