Jon Nakagawa, joined Lincoln Center in 1999 and is currently the Director of Contemporary Programming. More specifically, he’s in charge of programming and producing for the White Light Festival, Mostly Mozart Festival, and American Songbook.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (lincolncenter.org) is the world-renowned complex of thirty indoor and outdoor facilities situated on 16.3 acres in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of New York City. A few of the many resident organizations Lincoln Center is home to are: The Metropolitan Opera, Juilliard School, Lincoln Center Theatre, the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic. The entire grouping is affectionately nicknamed, The Campus.
Jon Nakagawa, joined Lincoln Center in 1999 and is currently the Director of Contemporary Programming. More specifically, he’s in charge of programming and producing for the White Light Festival, Mostly Mozart Festival, and American Songbook, a concert series devoted to popular song. Since being at Lincoln Center Jon has produced hundreds of performances including over 30 commissions and over 90 World/US/New York premieres.
Who are some of the upcoming artists who will be performing for the American Songbook series this season?
In 2022, we’re presenting the season in the Kaplan Penthouse, which is an intimate room with views of the Hudson River. I’m very excited that this year we will focus on new Americans and their contributions to the changing tapestry of American popular music. We have artists from Guatemala, Mexico, China, Guinea, Sudan, Venezuela, India, and Tunisia plus an artist from South America who comes from the Garifuna culture.
The iconic Mostly Mozart series originated in 1966. Can you share with us your involvement with the Festival today?
I’ve been involved with the non-concert productions: Opera, theater, dance and visual arts. The festival was a wonderful collaboration between Artistic Director Jane Moss, Music Director Louis Langree, Director of Music Programming Hanako Yamaguchi and myself. The team evolved the Festival from a series of orchestra concerts to a much more relevant summer festival which included the Mark Morris Dance Group as well as artists and projects from around the world like the Komisches Oper’s production of Barrie Kosky’s The Magic Flute from Berlin and Yang Liping’s Under Siege from China.
I know that you travel all over the world scouting out new talent and work. Where are some of your favorite destinations you’ve journeyed to?
OMG, this is a difficult question to answer. My job has taken me to every continent except Antarctica. London, Paris, Berlin, and Sydney would be the easy answers, but I’ve also gone to places that I didn’t know about before. I went to a festival on Terschelling in the Netherlands that was magical. It’s an island in the North of the Netherlands that each summer invites artists to create site specific works on its beaches, forests, etc. The beauty of nature combined with the artist’s imaginations is like nothing else available in a city theater.
Any wild or totally unexpected experiences on these trips?
I met my partner, Richard, on a work trip to Brussels. I was there to see opera at La Monnaie and he was attending an international law conference. We got to talking at a club and discovered that not only did he live in New York, his apartment was right across the street from Lincoln Center where I work. We probably passed each other on the sidewalk many times, but I had to take a trip to Brussels for us to find each other. The Kander and Ebb song “Ring Them Bells” is our theme song.
Originally named the Philharmonic Hall and then renamed Avery Fisher Hall in honor of philanthropist Avery Fisher, please bring us up-to-date with David Geffen Hall.
The exciting news is that David Geffen Hall will re-open in October 2022, two years earlier than planned. Lincoln Center decided to take advantage of the pandemic and accelerate the renovation since we couldn’t invite audiences in any way. The renovated David Geffen Hall will feature a more intimate concert hall with better acoustics as well as two smaller performance spaces the Music Box and the Sidewalk Studio. The hall will enhance the audience experience with a large media wall in the lobby, a café and bars, more bathrooms, and a patron’s lounge. Lincoln Center has commissioned a new work by composer Etienne Charles based on San Juan Hill (the neighborhood that Lincoln Center displaced when it was created) that will be performed by the New York Philharmonic on opening night.
What else is happening at Lincoln Center this summer and fall?
We hope that this summer will be a time for New Yorkers to reclaim our lives, rejoice in our present and future. and remember our past. There will be many participatory arts activities. A lot of social dance (we’re working on a night featuring DJs from the Paradise Garage!), workshops, more singing, etc. Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya will create a wonderful interactive arts installation on Hearst Plaza called Gather where people can write their grief on a piece of paper and float it out on the reflecting pool, write their hopes on ribbons tied to trees, and walk through an installation called threads of joy. We hope that this summer will be a celebration for New Yorkers and visitors of a city emerging from difficult times.
Can you share with our readers the very interesting concept of Kyle Abraham’s reimagining of Mozart’s Requiem?
The summer season will close with a Lincoln Center commissioned project about remembrance. We commissioned choreographer Kyle Abraham and electronic music composer Jlin to reimagine Mozart’s Requiem. Their contemporary take called Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth is fresh, but remains true to the themes of Mozart’s Requiem. Kyle’s career has taken off in the last few years with major commissions from New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London. He blends street dance with classical/modern dance in a unique way. During the pandemic, he choreographed (from LA) NYCB soloist Taylor Stanley in a beautiful solo that was filmed in front of the empty Lincoln Center that was lit up with Pride lights for Pride 2020. Jlin has a huge career in Europe and is starting to be known more in the States. We’ll also do a special concert of her original compositions. These are two young artists to watch as their careers take off.
Any LGBTQ events planned?
Yes, we plan on Pride events in the widest sense of the word. At Lincoln Center, we like to say that we celebrate everyone, everyday, so Pride events won’t be restricted to the last week of June (although we’ll have a lot of activity then). We plan on working with the National Queer Theater on the Criminal Queerness Festival. It’s a festival that is dedicated to playwrights from countries where being queer is a crime and by writing these plays they are breaking the law. This year, they will focus on sub-Saharan Africa. We will hopefully also work with STARR (Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform). Last year, we celebrated the birthday of Marsha P. Johnson who was part of the Stonewall Riots.
What is it that you love most about the work you do?
I love that my job has constantly evolved, which means that I’ve constantly evolved. There is always something new: ideas, artists, projects, etc. I’m learning something new every day.