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October 2010

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.

CMJ Saturday Recap

DSC02597After a brief, pointless detour to New Jersey, I found myself back in Williamsburg on Saturday afternoon at the Brooklyn Vegan/Converse free day party at Public Assembly. Sadly, we were too late for the free food (see above), but we did manage to snag some kind of spiked iced tea cocktail during No Joy's forgettable set.

They were followed on the mainstage by NOLA'S always-entertaining Big Freedia, who first bowled me over during NXNE in Toronto this past June. The self-proclaimed "Queen Diva" somehow managed to be raunchy, abusive and genteel, in that uniquely Southern way. "New York is like my second home," she told us. "You people are all crazy! Now, who wants to be a volunteer?" she asked before getting a 1/2 dozen audience members to join her onstage and shake their money makers to "Azz Everywhere."  

DSC02694From there, we wandered down to The Woods on S. 4th Street, where FMLY and Impose Magazine hosted a showcase of tripped out, psych-rock from all over the country. We saw Emily Reo, Blissed Out and the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman (pictured) who created tribal, trancelike vibes barefoot on a carpet in front of the stage, like a band of Qawaali singers. No relation to the Oscar-winning actor.

DSC02715I managed to see Mississippi's FLIGHT twice Saturday night: first at the Capeshok showcase at Bruar Falls, then later on at sister bar Cakeshop on the LES. (They apparently played a third show later on that night back across the river at Don Pedro's.) Really fun, straight-ahead garage: evidence of indie life below the Mason Dixon line.

DSC02728Also at Cake Shop were fellow Mississippians Dead Gaze, who played catchy, tunes full of distortion and electronics, with singing by Jimmy Cajolejas. (I especially liked "Stay, Don't Stay," punctuated by a hypnotic pulse on Jimmy's Kaoss Pad.) Then, just when I was about to bail on Georgia's tone deaf Barerracudas, I was saved by the arrival of free pizza. Sucker, I am.

DSC02739At one point, I hopped over to Piano's to catch violist Anni Rossi, who runs her instrument through a pickup and multiple effects pedals while strumming it like a bass uke (or, if you will, Buke) creating a warm, electric vibe. No indication where she learned to play, but if she came from the classical world, it was completely impossible to tell.

DSC02744Elsewhere in the vicinity were personal faves Alcoholic Faith Mission and Miracles of Modern Science, both of whom became casualties to the overrunning of the LES with the weekend Bridge and Tunnel set. After futile, ill-advised attempts to get into the Neon Indian show at Bowery and the Windish showcase at Santos, we finally piled ourselves in a cab and passed out on our way back to Brooklyn. 

As with NXNE, SXSW and other indie smorgasbords, CMJ 2010 was less about the individual bands than the collective energy generated by having so much live music pouring out of so many places, from established venues to private lofts. For bands, its a chance to get noticed; for the rest of us, its a window of discovery, an opportunity to embrace our perhaps-fading independent spirit. And remember what made us fall in love with music in the first place. 

See you next year.

DSC02673 More pics on Flickr.