Lincoln Center to End Its Namesake Summer Festival

Lincoln Center to End Its Namesake Summer Festival


When Jane Moss arrived at Lincoln Center 25 years ago to shake up its programming, many people thought that the days of its well-loved but staid Mostly Mozart festival were numbered. The creation of a rival summer festival — the multidisciplinary Lincoln Center Festival, which was run by others — in 1996 only added to the rumors of its pending demise.

But in the end Ms. Moss, and Mozart, are the survivors. Lincoln Center announced on Tuesday that it was pulling the plug on the Lincoln Center Festival, and that Ms. Moss, who reinvented and re-energized Mostly Mozart, would assume control over all of its summer programming in addition to her other duties as the center’s artistic director. It is the latest retrenchment for the center, which recently announced it was pulling back from its $500 million plan to renovate David Geffen Hall.

Taking control of all of Lincoln Center’s programming at a moment of budgetary constraints is the latest challenge for Ms. Moss, 65, who has quietly emerged as one of New York’s most creative tastemakers in recent years.

She said that while the details were still being worked out, she expected that Mostly Mozart would grow by 40 to 50 percent in future seasons to make up for the loss of the Lincoln Center Festival’s programming, which included hot-ticket productions of “The Demons” on Governors Island in 2010, the massive staging of Shakespeare plays in the Park Avenue Armory in 2011, and an international production of Balanchine’s “Jewels” this summer that was danced by the Paris Opera Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet. She also plans to expand the White Light Festival, the inward-looking, spiritually-inclined fall festival she launched in 2010. Summer programming as a whole will drop to five weeks in 2018 from seven weeks this year.

David Lang’s “the public domain,” performed on Lincoln Center’s plaza in August 2016.CreditAn Rong Xu for The New York Times

“I’m far more interested in impact than I am in quantity,” Ms. Moss said in an interview, adding, “I think it’s an opportunity, not necessarily a diminishment.”

Lincoln Center has sometimes struggled to forge its own artistic identity as a presenter; it is often overshadowed by its world-class constituents, including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic, who act independently. Ms. Moss has helped change that perception, first at Mostly Mozart, which Mark Swed wrote in The Los Angeles Times had become “maybe the hippest summer music festival in America,” and then with White Light. Between them, she has presented some of the city’s most important, audacious events in recent years.

In 2014, Ms. Moss helped bring the Berlin Philharmonic’s staging of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” to the Park Avenue Armory, which was reconfigured to resemble the orchestra’s unique home in Berlin. She gave the premiere of David Lang’s chorus for 1,000 singers, “the public domain,” in a free concert on Lincoln Center’s plaza to mark Mostly Mozart’s 50th anniversary. She presented the first staged performances in the United States of George Benjamin’s much-heralded new opera “Written on Skin,” in 2015.

“The reason I was brought in was that the classical music world was changing,” Ms. Moss said. “It used to be you could send out a little piece of paper with 10 famous names and you’d sell out. And those days were going, and they’re really gone now.”

As she found her way, she began to champion performances that rethought how masterpieces from past eras should be presented. “In the past, people would buy tickets to performances, and they would sit there and, if you were lucky, it was the great god von Karajan on stage or the great god Arthur Rubinstein,” she said. “That has completely changed. Now everyone wants an experience.”

Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio Choir with, at right, the tenor Mark Padmore in Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” at the Park Avenue Armory in 2014.CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Ms. Moss has worked to give audiences experiences. She brought New York the South African artist William Kentridge’s multimedia staging of Schubert’s “Winterreise”; the Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer’s inventive productions of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and “Le Nozze di Figaro”; and intimate performances of Brahms’s “German Requiem” that put the audience among the Berlin Radio Choir as they walked through the Synod House at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Many of her coups were made possible through collaborations: Ms. Moss learned to cooperate in the sometimes sharp-elbowed classical music world with entities that in the past might have been viewed as rivals. The “St. Matthew Passion” was possible because she worked with Carnegie Hall, which was bringing the Berlin Philharmonic to New York, and the Armory. “Written on Skin” was the fruit of a new partnership formed by Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic to mount staged operas. And Ms. Moss has survived — and thrived — amid the battles that can play out behind Lincoln Center’s travertine facades, managing to grow in power through successive administrations.

“I say this tongue in cheek, but I’m sure there’s a certain amount of truth to it: I’m one of six children,” said Ms. Moss, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., and majored in philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College. “If you’re one of six children, you learn the art of negotiation. And if your position is number five out of six, your only choice is to figure out alliances.”

While the Lincoln Center Festival had its detractors — Zachary Woolfe wrote in The New York Times that it had “felt jumbled and tired in recent years” — it did bring to New York world-class organizations like the Bolshoi Ballet and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Nigel Redden, who stepped down this summer as the director of the Lincoln Center Festival after 20 years, lamented its demise, saying that the festival had been especially valuable in providing a platform for non-Western art forms that might not otherwise be seen at Lincoln Center, including Noh theater and Kabuki theater from Japan, Indonesian dance, and others.

Ms. Moss, left, backstage on Saturday with Hanako Yamaguchi, Lincoln Center’s director of music programming, and Peter Phillips, the director of the Tallis Scholars.CreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times

“I feel New York will be somewhat poorer for not seeing them,” said Mr. Redden, who now concentrates on his other job, leading the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C.

Ms. Moss, whose main background before coming to Lincoln Center was in theater, including time as the executive director of Playwrights Horizons, said she expected to program more theatrical events, but did not say whether the old kind of big-ticket event would return with regularity.

She was in her element this weekend, wrapping up the kind of signature spectacle she has become known for: a 12-concert marathon of 150 biblical psalms set to music by 150 different composers. As she sat in her box at Alice Tully Hall next to the man she describes as her “beau,” the businessman and philanthropist Ravenel Curry, she gently swayed as the Tallis Scholars sang a cappella.

Then she walked into the lobby, where many White Light concerts end with free plastic cups of wine, and stood expectantly. Julian Wachner, the music director of Trinity Wall Street, climbed on a table and began conducting an impromptu concert of choristers in street clothes — drawn from his choir, the Tallis Scholars, the Netherlands Chamber Choir and the Norwegian Soloists Choir.

People gasped, froze, and took out their smartphones to film. Ms. Moss smiled. It was an experience.



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