Jane Moss

Lincoln Center focuses on artistic transcendence in the White Light Festival.

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  • Photograph: Kirsten Luce

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  • Photograph: Marion Gray

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    Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble open the White Light Festival with a free show at the David Rubenstein Atrium Oct 28.

  • Photograph: Atsushi Nakamichi/Nacsa & Partners Inc.

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    Janet Cardiff's audio-art installation "The Forty Part Motet" runs throughout the White Light Festival at Frederick P. Rose Hall.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Lincoln Cen

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  • Photograph: Harald Hoffmann/DG

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    Daniel Harding conducts the Dresden Staatskapelle in Brahms's German Requiem at Avery Fisher Hall Oct 31.

  • Photograph: Friedrun Reinhold

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  • Photograph: Andree Lanthier

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    China's Buddhist Shaolin monks inspired Sutra, staged at the Rose Theater Nov 2-4.

  • Photograph: Janis Deinats

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  • Photograph: Courtesy Lincoln Center

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    Muslim musicians of Northern India are showcased in Roysten Abel's The Manganiyar Seduction Nov 17 and 18.

  • Photograph: Corinne Silva

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    Katarina Livljanic and Ensemble Dialogos perform an intimate biblical drama at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse Nov 3, 5 and 6.

Photograph: Kirsten Luce

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"I'm thinking maybe, actually, music is the ultimate silence," Jane Moss says. Seated in her midtown office at Lincoln Center, where she is vice president for programming, Moss is ruminating on the theme of a panel discussion taking place near the start of the institution's bold new series, the White Light Festival. "And also, music actually makes silence audible," she muses.

Those seemingly contradictory observations illustrate the type of thinking Moss hopes to foster with the inaugural White Light Festival, which opens on Thursday 28 and runs through November 18. A central theme of spirituality binds the festival's 24 performances drawn from around the world, each meant to manifest the transcendent qualities of music.

Featured in the festival are a number of world-renowned musicians, from familiar Lincoln Center faces like the Dresden Staatskapelle and organist Paul Jacobs to newer arrivals specifically attracted by the philosophical premise. Both the Canadian installation artist Janet Cardiff and members of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rs, for instance, were inspired by White Light's mission to join this three-week meditation, Moss says.

They weren't the only ones. "Someone had sent me an article about [White Light] before they asked me to be in the festival, and everything that Jane wrote was so close to how I feel about my own work," says Meredith Monk, the singer, choreographer and composer who will open the festival with a free concert at the David Rubenstein Atrium. "Music, in a way, is a kind of antidote to this fragmentation that we live with in this world kind of overwhelmed with stimulation, restlessness and confusion."

The idea for a festival that focused on qualities within music, rather than on the notes and performers themselves, came to Moss while attending Iyengar Yoga classes, where she watched classmates use the 90-minute sessions to soothe their daily stresses and to search for meaning within themselves. She felt that the concert hall could satisfy those same desires. "Music just physiologically takes you to the deeper part of yourself," she says. "But you have to really listen, and in order to really listen, you have to turn a lot of stuff off and pay attention."

The challenge wasn't finding music that could be transcendent, but to create a context in which an audience would willingly silence cell phones, e-mail streams and constant chatter to contemplate larger, deeper questions. "That's of course a fairly complicated marketing message," Moss admits. But the message found acceptance quickly, first among the Lincoln Center executives who green-lit the project, then among artists. The response from performers proved so great, in fact, that their enthusiasm spilled over into next year's festival, as yet unannounced.

Belgian-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, inspired by China's Shaolin monks, was the first performance to find a home at White Light. The Dresden Staatskapelle, already engaged for the Great Performers series, changed one of their programs in order to include Brahms's German Requiem within an expanded context.

For Jacobs, the renowned head of Juilliard's organ department, breaking in the newly restored organ at Alice Tully Hall with Bach's Clavier-bung III dovetailed perfectly with the festival's mission. "I cannot conceive of an artist being an atheist," he says. "The whole existence of an artist is sort of proving a spiritual reality, proving that there is so much more to life than matter, than what we see."

The festival also lends itself to unusual combinations. The Hilliard Ensemble from England will present an evening of medieval Russian and Armenian spiritual music alongside their longtime collaborator, Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek. A few days later, they'll perform alongside the Latvian National Choir, the Wordless Music Orchestra and members of Sigur Rs. "It's a clich, about the universal nature of music," Hilliard Ensemble countertenor David Jones says. "But it's true."

And, in a city where everything from gyms to lingerie stores promises transformative experiences, already the White Light Festival has struck home among New York concertgoers, who have purchased tickets at a pace that surprised even the Lincoln Center staff. "There are certainly a lot of people searching," Moss says. "They're looking for something inside themselves. They're thinking of yoga in that way, but they should think of Sutra in that way. I think they'd really like what we do if they had a sense of what it could do for them."

Lincoln Center's White Light Festival opens Thu 28

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