Peter Sellars Strikes a Chord
People who attended the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual conference in Los Angeles last June were absolutely riveted by the speech given at the opening plenary session by Peter Sellars, the renowned theatrical and opera director, who has also had a long association with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
This talk went to the heart of what music is, and what it means in our society today. Without even knowing it, Sellars also touched on many of the directions that the League is taking in helping orchestras to understand the relevance that they must have to the communities in which they live. His talk was moving, provocative, uplifting while being hard-hitting, everything a keynote speech ought to be.
Our January issue of SYMPHONY Magazine features a printed transcript of Sellars's talk - but I would urge you to actually hear it, which you can do online (click here to listen to the keynote speech). Although it reads well in print, it is significantly more effective when one listens to it because of Sellars's delivery.
Sellars opened with a wonderful line: "If you want to respect your grandparents, take care of your kids." And went on to say "The idea that we do things that are new, and we do them every day, is what it means to be human. Deeply, profoundly human." Sellars spent a good deal of time speaking about education, and what its real nature should be, as opposed to what it often is: "This is a country in deep crisis - deep, deep crisis - and we are setting the stage for a national catastrophe. Part of that stage is the attack on education, No Child Left Behind, in which the next generation simply will not be educated. They are being taught to take multiple-choice tests." This is just the beginning of his take on the real meaning and value of education, what it should be, and what the role of culture should be in the education process. What he has to say is both inspirational and thought-provoking.
I think the most moving part of his talk was his description of going with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Seventh Day Adventist churches in South Central Los Angeles.
"We arrived at this church on a Saturday afternoon, and it was in the middle of a full gang funeral. A young man the community valued had been shot in gang crossfire. The church was filled with mourners and with a kind of heaviness over the pointless violence that's going on right now in our cities....The orchestra had programmed the Egmont Overture of Beethoven. Those opening chords in that grief-stricken community were overwhelming. And then this small theme that tries to propose an alternative to violence, which is brutally massacred, comes back as the oboe decides to keep it alive. Gradually, like an underground movement of women in the community, the theme is handed around until finally everyone in the orchestra has tasted it...."
There's more - much more - but I'll let you read it in SYMPHONY, or experience it online. You are unlikely to remain unchanged after doing so. Click here to read the full article.