Monday, April 17, 2006

Esa-Pekka Salonen Says He May Write an Opera

By Ben Mattison
From PlaybillArts.com - 14 Apr 2006

Conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen said in a Bloomberg News interview published today that he is in the early stages of writing an opera.
In Paris to conduct the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater, Salonen was asked about the possibility of writing an opera himself. He responded, "Actually, I'm working with a dramatist at the moment. We'll see."
Salonen, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, also said that he wanted to cut back on guest conducting in order to spend more time composing. "There are plenty of conductors out there," he said. "But only I can write my music."
He added that conductors in general should focus on "developing local musical life," and said that the international travels of star conductors were driven by "hype."


Salonen Bemoans Strikes, Critics; Welcomes Cindy Crawford's Bra

By Shirley Apthorp
From Bloomberg - April 14, 2006

Paris's St. Germain basks in spring sunshine on a day when, just two blocks west, rioting students have overturned a car and beaten up the driver. As riot police arrive, sirens blazing, lunchers stretch their legs at pavement tables and tip their faces to the sun.
Esa-Pekka Salonen arrives at Les Deux Magots, late and apologetic. This cafe was Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway's favorite hangout, and he recalls their habits with a touch of glee, adding sadly that he feels the place has lost its bohemian charm. The Finnish conductor and composer will be 50 in two years, but still looks boyish, with his mop of blond hair and fresh-pressed shirt. Boyish but tired.
``I'm an old horse,'' he says. ``I've been around and done thousands of concerts and shows. But still, you have a kind of mental buildup before a premiere. And when the air goes out of the balloon, it's just sad.''
Salonen is in Paris to conduct the world premiere of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's second opera, ``Adriana Mater,'' a complex work about rape and violence in a war-torn community. The first performance, scheduled for March 30, was canceled at the last minute when workers at the Opera de Paris's Bastille theater called a strike. Gerard Mortier, the director of the Opera de Paris, called Salonen with the news just as he was finishing lunch.

Drowning Sorrows

``I was just about to have my coffee and go,'' he says. ``Then Mortier was on the phone saying, `Well, there's no show tonight.' So I ordered a bottle of wine.''
Chaos ensued, with a vast audience, including some 65 representatives of the international press who had flown in for the event, being turned back at the doors.
``I'm glad I wasn't there,'' he says. ``I was trying to take it professionally. It was a very weird thing, because it was not a majority strike, and it wasn't linked to the general strike, either. This was just a small fraction of people who timed it in such a way that the whole thing collapsed. There was nothing that could be done. But I got depressed.''
The second performance went ahead. Despite an enthusiastic response from the public, the French press response was not glowing.
``Everything is political in Paris,'' Salonen says. ``To damn this opera is to take a swipe at Mortier. And here you had a Lebanese librettist, a Finnish composer and an American director coming to Paris to do an opera at the country's national house . . .''
Salonen trails into silence with an exasperated sigh and turns his attention to his coffee for a moment.

Narrative Opera

So how does he rate the opera?
``I can't separate myself from the piece,'' he says. ``Kaija is a very close friend of mine. And I've been working with this score for months now, so I can't put myself mentally outside the situation. I think it's a very strong piece. Kaija is a composer whose vocabulary is extremely focused. The harmonic language is limited and extremely precise. You hear one note and you know it's hers. That's rare these days.''
Also unusual is the clear narrative form of ``Adriana Mater,'' in a continental context where new operas are generally modernist deconstructions.
``This is not a post-modern, distanced view of the very idea of opera,'' says Salonen. ``It's an opera which absolutely believes in the art of opera, a simple story told in a linear way. It is a statement of faith in the fact that opera is an art form which can deal with big emotions and huge subjects. I'm very tired of the modernist idea that there are things you should not do because they are against the historic determinist paradigm or the Hegelian dialectical idea.''

Conducting Hype

Surely a composer with such strong views can be expected at some point to produce an opera himself? ``Actually, I'm working with a dramatist at the moment,'' he admits. ``So we'll see.''
He plans to scale down his guest conducting drastically, reducing his commitments to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he has been music director since 1992, the Baltic Sea Festival, which he founded in 2003, and a few select engagements.
``There are plenty of conductors out there,'' Salonen says. ``Way too much is being made of conductors and conducting. Being a conductor myself, I do have some knowledge of the empty hype that goes with this profession. But only I can write my music. There's no one else who can do it for me.''
Strong words for a man close to the top of the international conducting circuit. What exactly is he criticizing?
``The most important function of a conductor is that of developing local musical life,'' he says. ``Conductors should be what they used to be -- spokespeople for music in their home town.''

Crawford's Bra

That is a big task in a community like Los Angeles, where the brand new Walt Disney Concert Hall towers over streets crowded with homeless and destitute migrants.
``Disney Hall has been very successful in the sense that it has become our landmark already,'' Salonen says. ``There is hardly a Hollywood movie with a car chase which doesn't go past Disney Hall. There is hardly a lingerie commercial that wouldn't be partly shot in the garden of Disney Hall.
``I went to work one morning, and outside my door was Cindy Crawford in a black bra,'' he says. ``And I thought that very clearly the building is making progress in integrating itself into various layers of our culture.''

Adriana Mater is showing at the Opera de Paris on April 12, 15 and 18. Call (33) (1) 7229-3535, or go to http://www.operadeparis.fr for more information.

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