Over the years, Jane Moss, the inventive director of Lincoln Center, has tweaked her description of the annual White Light Festival, a challenge that has had particular which means for her and has proved widespread with audiences. When it was inaugurated 9 years in the past, the pageant was touted as a monthlong exploration of non secular dimensions in music. But isn’t all music non secular in some sense? Even a bit of Schubert march for piano four-hands which may appear jaunty on the floor can have a questioning undertow.
More lately White Light has been described as an exploration of the “energy of artwork to light up our inside and communal lives,” to cite Ms. Moss’s program notice for this yr’s pageant. But that’s nonetheless a fairly all-encompassing idea.
Three White Light packages in the course of the last week of the pageant, which ended this weekend with the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s opera “Only the Sound Remains,” manifested fairly totally different dimensions of spirituality, an overused time period for a profound idea.
On Tuesday the Latvian Radio Choir, a outstanding 24-voice ensemble, offered an a cappella program on the Church of St. Mary the Virgin close to Times Square titled “The Distant Light.” The program targeted on latest items by Latvian composers and the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov’s 1995 “Diptych,” works that explored mystical realms and demonstrated this refrain’s experience in music that pushes voices to extremes, from ethereal excessive tones to uncannily sustained bass drones.
On Thursday, regardless of snowy, sleety climate, Alice Tully Hall was almost full for the sold-out efficiency of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation,” offered by the conductor William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants refrain and period-instrument orchestra. A piece that relates the biblical creation story is by definition non secular. But Haydn’s oratorio tells the story with marvel and pleasure and hardly a hint of non secular angst or questioning. Much of it depicts God contentedly going concerning the enterprise of fashioning the firmament and the waters, of making birds and beasts and, lastly, man and lady. Mr. Christie led an ebullient but purposeful account of this Haydn masterpiece and had an exceptionally advantageous trio of soloists: the soprano Sandrine Piau, the tenor Hugo Hymas, and the bass Alex Rosen.
On Saturday on the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the pageant offered the extremely anticipated American premiere of Ms. Saariaho’s “Only the Sound Remains,” a manufacturing directed by Peter Sellars, who conceived the work with Ms. Saariaho. Structured in two components, this 2017 opera relies on two Japanese Noh performs as translated by Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa. One of the 2 characters in every story is an precise spirit — a ghostly presence. As interpreted by the composer and director, the performs discover spirituality as a form of longing, virtually a love affair, between mortal and spirit beings.
In the primary, “Always Strong” (“Tsunemasa”), a monk serving at a temple of the royal court docket prays to Tsunemasa, who has died in a battle. As a younger man, Tsunemasa was a favourite of the emperor, who gave him a splendid lute. The monk affords the lute as a present of peace to the deceased’s soul. A voice replies. He is the younger man’s ghost who yearns for the outdated days on earth together with his lute, his music, his life.
In a program notice, Ms. Saariaho, whose “L’Amour de loin” was carried out to acclaim on the Metropolitan Opera in 2016, explains that in “Only the Sound Remains” she wished to create an intimate opera that will play successfully in a big area. She achieved that aim compellingly. The orchestra contains a string quartet (Meta4), flute, percussion and kantele (a standard Finnish plucked string instrument which right here evokes the lute). A quartet of singers referred to as Theater of Voices, acting from the orchestra pit, contribute choral refrains and echo vocal strains hauntingly. The rating entails digital processing of the music in refined ways in which lend aural atmosphere to the sound.
Ms. Saariaho’s music is wealthy with sustained sonorities, shimmering harmonies and slides. Wavering lots of sound are jarred with squiggly instrumental riffs. Plucked phrases on the kantele and the strings appear without delay delicately non secular and skittishly angular. The rating dangers sounding amorphous at instances, however Ms. Saariaho prevents this by injecting shards of dissonance, elusive harmonies that slip and groan, and spiraling figures that create moments of dizzying depth.
The charismatic younger bass-baritone Davóne Tines was endearing because the religious monk who’s rattled, but remodeled, by the ghost. The excellent countertenor Philippe Jaroussky was a mystical however horrifying presence as Tsunemasa, who so misses his earthly life.
That craving got here by means of profoundly in Mr. Sellars’s manufacturing, which was highly effective in its simplicity (with units by Julie Mehretu and lighting by James F. Ingalls). Just a painted sheet separated the realms of the temple and the past. Lighting typically turned the monk and the ghost into looming shadowy figures. In one episode, the 2 singers have what at first appeared a romantic second: they contact after which kiss. But this got here throughout much less as a homoerotic stirring than as a scene of poignant longing between the dwelling and the useless.
“Feather Mantle” (“Hagoromo”), the second Noh play, has some tumultuous moments however is lastly a celebratory work. One morning a fisherman (Mr. Tines, drawing upon probably the most sturdy components of his voice) finds a wonderful gown, a feather mantle, hanging on a department. He intends to take it house and present it off. But a moon spirit, Tennin, seems and asks the fisherman to return it. Without it, she explains, she can’t return to heaven. The fisherman relents, provided that the spirit carry out a celestial dance first.
This rating, utilizing the identical instrumental and choral components, additionally has atmospheric colorings and haziness, however a lot rhythmic spark and episodes of dancing. The four-part choir typically sings strains in sonorous block chords. In an impressed stroke, Tennin is portrayed by a singer (Mr. Jaroussky, once more fantastic) and a dancer (the mesmerizing Nora Kimball-Mentzos, who additionally elegantly choreographed the work).
The conductor Ernest Martínez Izquierdo led luminous, nuanced and colourful accounts of each scores, which actually kind one opera in two components. Alas, there have been simply two performances. The choices of this White Light Festival are significantly decreased from earlier years. “Only the Sound Remains” should come again to New York for an extended run.