Why You Can’t Miss This Year’s White Light Festival

Classic Arts Features   Why You Can’t Miss This Year’s White Light Festival
The 8th annual edition of Lincoln Center’s fest is the height of dance, music, and theatre.
Tallis Scholars
Tallis Scholars Nick Rutter

Pause (breathe). Play (music). Pause (meditate). Play (find joy).

Since its inception, Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival of dance, theatre, and music has encouraged audiences to press “pause,” then “play”—to disconnect from our plugged-in, hectic lives and connect to something larger through art and the shared experience of live performance.

Now in its eighth year, the White Light Festival continues to highlight the transformative power of art to illuminate our individual and communal lives. The 2017 edition (October 18–November 15) will explore transcendence, interior illumination, and faith in the human spirit, as exhibited through artistic expression across continents and centuries.

“In these challenging and divisive times, the White Light Festival’s focus on the self-illumination, reflection, and nourishment offered by art seems especially timely and necessary,” says Jane Moss, Ehrenkranz Artistic Director of Lincoln Center. “We hope to expand audiences’ experiences of the world through thought-provoking presentations from a multitude of cultural backgrounds and artistic disciplines.”

A major theme of this year’s festival—humanity’s collective resilience—is illuminated by Monteverdi: The Birth of Opera, which will celebrate the genre’s origin and the 450th anniversary of composer Claudio Monteverdi’s birth with semi-staged performances by John Eliot Gardiner and his exceptional period-instrument ensemble and choir. Over three evenings (October 18, 19, and 21), the English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, and exquisite vocal soloists will recreate opera’s early sound world in three Monteverdi works: Orfeo, The Return of Ulysses, and The Coronation of Poppea.

Fast-forwarding to the present and looking to the future, pioneering vocalist and composer Meredith Monk will present Dancing Voices, an intergenerational melding of music and movement in partnership with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City on October 20–21. The program will encompass Monk’s choral, duet, and solo works refashioned for a new generation in a retrospective honoring the composer’s 75th birthday.

Venturing into unprecedented artistic territory to explore the mysteries of faith, the centerpiece of the festival will be a unique 12-concert event, The Psalms Experience, in which four internationally renowned choirs will present 1,000 years of music November 1–11. The Psalms Experience comprises all 150 psalms from the Hebrew Bible set by 150 different composers, from Bach and Handel to Nielsen and Pärt, to new commissions by Caroline Shaw, David Lang, Nico Muhly, Michel van der Aa, and Isidora Žebeljan. Songs of gratitude, abandonment, solace, and redemption will be performed across four New York City venues by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Netherlands Chamber Choir, Tallis Scholars, and Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, culminating in a finale at Alice Tully Hall. Presenting ageless poetry in Latin, French, Hebrew, German, Swedish, Russian, and Armenian, the series will explore the psalms’ contemporary relevance in today’s world.

Shifting to terrestrial (but no less ecstatic) love, the Mark Morris Dance Group returns to the festival October 26–29 with the New York premiere of Layla and Majnun, a timeless Middle Eastern opera reinterpreted by choreographer Mark Morris and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this universal saga of impossible union, the star-crossed lovers are sung by celebrated Azerbaijani mugham vocalists Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova, with bold costumes and sets designed by the late abstractionist Howard Hodgkin.

In another singular offering, Jessica Lang choreographs and directs Pergolesi’s ravishing Stabat Mater November 1–2. For this union of sacred music and dance, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and soprano Andriana Chuchman proffer ethereal lamentations exploring Mary’s suffering at the scene of the Crucifixion alongside the arresting movement of Jessica Lang Dance.

Following its acclaimed productions at the 2015 White Light Festival, Gare St. Lazare Ireland returns November 3–5 to present The Beckett Trilogy, a solo performance by Conor Lovett, “the greatest Beckett interpreter alive today” (Australian Arts Hub), and directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett. The performance consists of excerpts of Beckett’s Parisian novels Malloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, with sagacious antiheros exploring the absurdities of the human condition.

Using a powerful combination of sound and image, the U.S. premiere on November 9 of Darkness and Light—a collaboration between Australian video artist Lynette Wallworth and premier Belgian organist Bernard Foccroulle—melds Baroque and 20th-century keyboard music with projections of natural and industrial scenes in a nuanced exploration of duality and paradox.

On the concert stage, the venerable Emerson String Quartet makes its first White Light Festival appearance juxtaposing the innovative genius of late Shostakovich with late Beethoven on October 24. Pianist Steven Osborne channels mystical composer Olivier Messiaen on October 31 in the incomparable Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, a 20-part work of herculean proportions infused with joie de vivre. On November 12, pianist Jenny Lin marks the 80th birthday of visionary Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov with his lyrical meditations on Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, and others.

Also on November 12, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, along with the Swedish Radio Choir and impeccable Scandinavian vocal soloists, presents Beethoven’s towering Missa solemnis under the direction of Thomas Dausgaard in David Geffen Hall. Historically deemed too big for a church, the Missa solemnis evokes the immensity, power, and pathos of humanity’s continuing search for redemption. In an intimate performance, the Swedish Radio Choir offers a luminous a cappella concert on November 14 in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

In a final celebration of resilience, the festival concludes on November 15 with The Routes of Slavery from beloved early music interpreter Jordi Savall. Accompanied by guest singers and instrumentalists from Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Savall and his ensembles incorporate musical and oral traditions from Africa to the New World during the transatlantic slave trade, in a multicultural program covering four centuries of music of astonishing vitality.
As in years past, the White Light Festival will include artist talks, discussions with multidisciplinary experts, a film screening, and the ever-popular post-performance White Light Lounges. Pause, take a breath, disconnect—and connect to the extraordinary art this year’s festival has to offer.

Ann Crews Melton is a writer and former New Yorker based in Bismarck, North Dakota. Monteverdi: The Birth of Opera is made possible in part by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

The Psalms Experience is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The presentation of Mark Morris Dance Group’s Layla and Majnun is made possible in part by endowment support from the American Express Cultural Preservation Fund. Endowment support for this presentation is also provided by Blavatnik Family Foundation Fund for Dance.

For tickets and information, visit WhiteLightFestival.org.

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