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Coffee Conversation: Jane Moss


"I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener." Arvo Pärt

Switching gears from five days of nonstop CMJ action, this week brings the inaugural White Light Festival to Lincoln Center: a three week concert series that is one of the most diverse and exciting new musical events to hit NYC in some time. The festival, which kicks off tomorrow with a free performance by the Meredith Monk Ensemble, includes everything from Rennaissance motets, to the celestial strangeness of Antony and the Johnsons, to a unique collaboration (Credo) between Sigur Rós, the Hilliard Ensemble and the Wordless Music Orchestra.  

White Light's stated goal is to present "musical experiences that offer a shared emotional connection and wholeness in an increasingly fragmented and frenetic world." This year's festival is centered around the theme of Spirituality; future festivals will be centered on other themes.

The mastermind behind this ambitious new entry to the NY concert calendar is Lincoln Center's VP for Programming, Jane Moss, who is perhaps best known as the director of Mostly Mozart: the long-running summer festival into which she's helped breathe new life by crossbreeding the music of Bach and Mozart with 21st century masters like John Adams and Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

In a wide-ranging interview I conducted with Ms. Moss recently, she spoke about the festival's gestation, about her own very personal investment in its success, and about the power of music to augment and enhance our lives. She spoke with deep passion and conviction, filled with an almost missionary zeal for music. A girl after my own heart.

Following are excerpts, (in the style of my old Cocktail Conversations):

On Modern Life: “We have been entering what I call an era of Distraction. We all consume emails and text messages as if they're fast food. As soon as you empty your inbox, it fills up again. And that causes people to panic: 'Why didn't they write back right away?' Multi-tasking, by definition, means that you're never in the place you're actually in. It takes you away from your soul."

On Why We Need Art: "People are losing touch with their inner lives. Everyone is spinning out of control, feeling overwhelmed. There is an intense hunger out there for artistic experiences: people want to empty themselves out and let art in."

On Why NYC Needs Another Festival: "We asked ourselves: What can we bring to the table that's different and special? Where can we have the most impact? We didn't want to just have a festival for the sake of having a festival. It needed to have artistic integrity; it needed to have a purpose."

On Why She Loves Her Job: "The greatest gift in my life is a deep, unceasing love affair with music. Not an affair: love. My role in life is to to articulate that love to others and have them respond. I feel an enormous responsibility in my job to learn how to wear my heart on my sleeve every day."

On the Power of Music: "Music lets your expand, makes you feel bigger - as if there's more of you. This is something that music uniquely does. It has an emotional impact that literally transports you to a state of transcendence. No other art form can truly say that." 

On Live Music: "Seeing a concert makes us feel more connected to others, in a tangible way. For two hours, your're in a closed environment, where you can find protection and release in the company of your fellow man. That is so powerful.”

On Festivals: "Festivals have so much more impact than a concert here, a concert there. Especially in New York, where there are so many things competing for a concertgoer's attention on any given night. With festivals, it's possible to break through the clutter." 

On the Inspiration for White Light:  "This festival is about something much more than an aesthetic experience. It's about transcendence, about regaining access to your interior life. The name comes from a quote by the composer Arvo Pärt (above), which says that music is transformed from white light into color through the prism of the listener. I think the most successful festivals all have a personal vision, and I wanted to do a festival about transcendence and spirituality, both of which have had an indelible impact on my own life."

On Presentation: "I don't know if the same people will want to see both Sigur Ros and the Dresden Staatskapelle  That isn't important to me. What matters most is context and presentation, which will be consistent throughout the festival. The marketing for this festival has been almost silent, and we've still managed to break through the clutter and grab people's attention. We've hired a lighting and set designer, and after every concert, each listener will get a special takeaway card with a quote on it."

On Her Favorites: "They're all my favorites. What I love most of all is the diversity."

Click here for a quick video of Jane speaking about the festival. Full festival calendar here.