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Sellars, Salonen, Conlon online, on your iPod

April 13, 2009 |  3:15 pm

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This is an extraordinarily important moment in Los Angeles' musical culture – what with Peter Sellars directing a Stravinsky production for Esa-Pekka Salonen’s final concerts as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director this week and Los Angeles Opera’s budding Achim Freyer-directed “Ring” cycle.  International press has been hanging around the Music Center.  Conversation, really good conversation, is being generated.  Tickets may not be so easy to come by, but the conversation happens to be for all.

Talks about these activities by Sellars, Salonen and L.A. Opera’s music director, James Conlon, are now on the Web.

The smartest, most scintillating discussion about Stravinsky I've ever encountered was a conversation two weeks ago at the Santa Monica Museum of Art between Salonen and Sellars about their upcoming Philharmonic collaboration in “Oedipus Rex” and “Symphony of Psalms.” The Santa Monica museum is hosting an exhibition, curated by Sellars, of the work of Ethiopian artist Elias Sime, who has designed masks and thrones for Sellars’ “Oedipus” production.   It was amid Sime’s mud and straw and leather and buttons and miles of yarn and goat skins and many toy monkeys that Sellars and Salonen presented "Oedipus in Ethiopia: Further Reflections on the Sacred Stravinsky Across an 18-Year Collaboration."

As a complement to that, don’t miss a video of a recent talk by Sellars, “The Arts in the Age of Obama,” given at the Montalvo Arts Center in Northern California, in which the director advocates a new activist arts movement for the 21st century built upon the model of the WPA during the Great Depression.  If you want to know what makes Sellars Sellars, this should be your first stop.


Meanwhile, the L.A. Phil has for a while been podcasting and offering RSS feeds of its Upbeat Live pre-concert talks.  Last week Salonen spoke about his new Violin Concerto, his relationship with the difficult Hungarian composer György Ligeti and shared his latest thoughts on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony,

For each of its productions, L.A. Opera can be counted on to present a pair of podcast interviews with artists called "Beyond the Curtain."  These are worth checking out even if they sometimes feel like publicity.  But the company puts its pre-performance lectures online as well.  For the “Ring” cycle, those are delivered by the indefatigable Conlon himself, and he illustrates with musical examples. They have become so popular that you need to now arrive early even for the lecture.  I know boiling the five-hour "Die Walküre" down to an entertaining 45-minutes précis sounds like an oxymoron, but Conlon gets straight to the essence of Wagner.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Peter Sellars and Esa-Pekka Salonen in conversation April 3 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Credit: Rebecca Sapp

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