Three Varied Visions of Spirituality at the White Light Festival
in the past, Jane Moss, the artistic director of Lincoln Center, has tweaked her description of the annual White Light Festival, a project which has had special meaning for her along with also has proved well-liked with audiences. When which was inaugurated nine years ago, the festival was touted as a monthlong exploration of spiritual dimensions in music. nevertheless isn’t all music spiritual in some sense? Even a little Schubert march for piano four-hands which might seem jaunty on the surface can have a questioning undertow.
More recently White Light has been described as an exploration of the “power of art to illuminate our Inside along with also communal lives,” to quote Ms. Moss’s program note due to which year’s festival. nevertheless which’s still a pretty all-encompassing concept.
Three White Light programs during the final week of the festival, which ended which weekend with the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s opera “Only the Sound Remains,” manifested quite different dimensions of spirituality, an overused term for a profound concept.
On Tuesday the Latvian Radio Choir, a remarkable 24-voice ensemble, presented an a cappella program at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin near Times Square titled “The Distant Light.” The program focused on recent pieces by Latvian composers along with also the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov’s 1995 “Diptych,” works which explored mystical realms along with also demonstrated which chorus’s expertise in music which pushes voices to extremes, by ethereal high tones to uncannily sustained bass drones.
On Thursday, despite snowy, sleety weather, Alice Tully Hall was nearly full for the sold-out performance of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation,” presented by the conductor William Christie along with also his Les Arts Florissants chorus along with also period-instrument orchestra. A work which relates the biblical creation story is actually by definition spiritual. nevertheless Haydn’s oratorio tells the tale with wonder along with also joy along with also hardly a trace of spiritual angst or questioning. Much of which depicts God contentedly going about the business of fashioning the firmament along with also the waters, of creating birds along with also beasts along with also, finally, man along with also woman. Mr. Christie led an ebullient yet purposeful account of which Haydn masterpiece along with also had an exceptionally fine trio of soloists: the soprano Sandrine Piau, the tenor Hugo Hymas, along with also the bass Alex Rosen.
On Saturday at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the festival presented the highly anticipated American premiere of Ms. Saariaho’s “Only the Sound Remains,” a production directed by Peter Sellars, who conceived the work with Ms. Saariaho. Structured in two parts, which 2017 opera is actually based on two Japanese Noh plays as translated by Ezra Pound along with also Ernest Fenollosa. One of the two characters in each tale is actually an actual spirit — a ghostly presence. As interpreted by the composer along with also director, the plays explore spirituality as a kind of longing, almost a love affair, between mortal along with also spirit beings.
inside the first, “Always Strong” (“Tsunemasa”), a monk serving at a temple of the royal court prays to Tsunemasa, who has died in a battle. As a young man, Tsunemasa was a favorite of the emperor, who gave him a splendid lute. The monk offers the lute as a gift of peace to the deceased’s soul. A voice replies. He is actually the young man’s ghost who yearns for the old days on earth with his lute, his music, his life.
In a program note, Ms. Saariaho, whose “L’Amour de loin” was performed to acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016, explains which in “Only the Sound Remains” she wanted to create an intimate opera which could play effectively in a large space. She achieved which goal compellingly. The orchestra comprises a string quartet (Meta4), flute, percussion along with also kantele (a traditional Finnish plucked string instrument which here evokes the lute). A quartet of singers called Theater of Voices, performing by the orchestra pit, contribute choral refrains along with also echo vocal lines hauntingly. The score involves electronic processing of the music in subtle ways which lend aural ambience to the sound.
Ms. Saariaho’s music is actually rich with sustained sonorities, shimmering harmonies along with also slides. Wavering masses of sound are jarred with squiggly instrumental riffs. Plucked phrases on the kantele along with also the strings seem at once delicately spiritual along with also skittishly angular. The score risks sounding amorphous at times, nevertheless Ms. Saariaho prevents which by injecting shards of dissonance, elusive harmonies which slip along with also groan, along with also spiraling figures which create moments of dizzying intensity.
The charismatic young bass-baritone Davóne Tines was endearing as the devout monk who is actually rattled, yet transformed, by the ghost. The superb countertenor Philippe Jaroussky was a mystical nevertheless frightening presence as Tsunemasa, who so misses his earthly life.
which yearning came through profoundly in Mr. Sellars’s production, which was powerful in its simplicity (with sets by Julie Mehretu along with also lighting by James F. Ingalls). Just a painted sheet separated the realms of the temple along with also the beyond. Lighting often turned the monk along with also the ghost into looming shadowy figures. In one episode, the two singers have what at first seemed a romantic moment: they touch along with also then kiss. nevertheless which came across less as a homoerotic stirring than as a scene of poignant longing between the living along with also the dead.
“Feather Mantle” (“Hagoromo”), the second Noh play, has some tumultuous moments nevertheless is actually finally a celebratory work. One morning a fisherman (Mr. Tines, drawing upon the most robust elements of his voice) finds a beautiful robe, a feather mantle, hanging on a branch. He intends to take which home along with also show which off. nevertheless a moon spirit, Tennin, appears along with also asks the fisherman to return which. Without which, she explains, she cannot return to heaven. The fisherman relents, on condition which the spirit perform a celestial dance first.
which score, using the same instrumental along with also choral elements, also has atmospheric colorings along with also haziness, nevertheless much rhythmic spark along with also episodes of dancing. The four-part choir often sings lines in sonorous block chords. In an inspired stroke, Tennin is actually portrayed by a singer (Mr. Jaroussky, again wonderful) along with also a dancer (the mesmerizing Nora Kimball-Mentzos, who also elegantly choreographed the work).
The conductor Ernest Martínez Izquierdo led luminous, nuanced along with also colorful accounts of both scores, which definitely form one opera in two parts. Alas, there were just two performances. The offerings of which White Light Festival are considerably reduced by earlier years. “Only the Sound Remains” must come back to fresh York for a longer run.