White Light Festival at Lincoln Center: A Beacon for Music and Art Lovers


Published: October 7, 2010

Estonian classical composer Arvo Part once compared his music to “white light which contains all colors.” He explained, “Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear. This prism could be the spirit of the listener.” Part’s music and philosophy will join the work of many other forward-thinking musicians for the upcoming White Light Festival at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The first annual White Light Festival at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts runs from Oct. 28 to (Lucy Sutton/The Observer)

The concert series showcases a collection of worldly and otherworldly productions that aspire to transcend world music, integrating its spirit into the sophisticated world of performance art.

Running from Oct. 28 through Nov. 18, the festival offers 21 performances as well as post-performance discussions with musicians and composers, a sound art installation and lounge sessions that let festival attendees relax and wind down.

Pricing for the productions depends on the performer along with seating, ranging from $25 to $75. The productions will be performed at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, the Rose Theater, Alice Tulley and Fisher Halls and the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Jane A. Moss, festival director and Lincoln Center’s vice president for programming, said she wishes to concentrate on the festival’s willingness to convey a deeper sense of spirituality and transcendence within the listener, taking world music and presenting it through differing mediums that would be uncanny anywhere else.

Individuals who attend the festival must “empty [themselves] out to a certain degree and allow the work to come in,” Moss said. She hopes to detach festival attendees from the technologically savvy world that is experienced every day and establish a meditative environment,  courtesy of the performers.

“We think of things aesthetically: this is the best Beethoven performance or this is a wonderful conductor of Mozart,” Moss said. “I think that what we deliberately set out to do with White Light is actually make a bigger statement than just an aesthetic one… [Music] can take you inside yourself in very meaningful ways.”

Sporting musicians and composers from over 10 countries, the festival’s unorthodox productions include Sutra, a company of Shaolin monks whose acrobatic maneuvers combine ballet, African dance and hip-hop to the live music of Polish composer Syzmon Brzoska.

Another group, The Manganiyar Orchestra, made up of Muslim northern Indians, performs Hindustani classical music while slowly accumulating featured instruments one by one. Ultimately, the group forms a vast musical blanket of celebration reminiscent of the music performed at Indian births, marriage and death.

According to Dr. Sevin H. Yaraman, clinical assistant professor of music at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), the type of music featured during the festival’s productions will not be taken directly from ethnic concerts. The presentation of the performance is solely artistic, using a country’s musical culture only as a base from which to launch itself.

“If you look at [the festival] really carefully, it uses elements from different cultures that are already lifted as a high culture and a high art,” Yaraman said. “There is an Indian performance there; but if you go, you don’t really see Indian,” she said. “It’s not world music in other words. You are not going to see authentic Indian, Hindu dances.”

“[The cultural influences are] still very meaningful. The composers and the musicians are really first class in what they are doing.” But students should know, “they are not going to a world music institute,” she added.

Aiming to bring a youthful demographic to the festival, two reputable indie music acts will also join the list of world performers.

Antony and the Johnsons will be performing songs from their 2009 release “The Crying Light” as well as their latest album “Swanlights.” The group’s lead singer, Antony Hegarty, will be aided by the Orchestra of St. Luke, supporting the multi-layered, painful sincerity of Hegarty’s voice. Director Chiaki Nagano’s film, “Mr. O’s Book of the Dead,” will also be projected on the wall.

Along with Antony and the Johnsons, Jonsi and other members from Icelandic songsmiths Sigur Rós will perform at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle with The Hilliard Ensemble, Latvian National Choir and the Wordless Music Orchestra under the name Credo.

Moss said the response to the festival has been incredible, expecting a large turnout by people who are interested in something different, something spiritual. “The organizing principal or territorial focus is really looking at the area of transcendence in our lives, in our own spirits, and in our selves.”

This is one white light you may be eager to go toward.