May 1, 2009

"Devotional Irreverence"

Another reminder why the New Yorker's Alex Ross is so invaluable. In the midst of a beautiful, measured but glowing farewell to the LA Phil's boy wonder Esa-Pekka Salonen (whose bracing, inspiring tenure I had the pleasure to witness firsthand through many of its years), Ross nails this insight:
[Peter] Sellars seldom goes wrong when he addresses religious subjects; he approaches them with a kind of devotional irreverence, jettisoning dogma and exposing the spiritual core. In “Oedipus,” he set aside the arch narration that Jean Cocteau created for Stravinsky’s score and replaced it with recitations after Sophocles. The “Symphony of Psalms,” in Sellars’s conception, becomes a redemptive epilogue to Sophocles’ tragedy, the musical ritual accompanying Oedipus’ quasi-mystical death at Colonus. There was an intriguingly seamless transition from Greek-pagan to Latin-Christian imagery: the common link was the power of humility in the face of destruction.

Like the best criticism, that feels so right, naming an impression I hadn't put into those terms, even as it makes me rethink the non-religiously themed Sellars work I've seen (Nixon in China, Pelleas et Melisande, The Persians, Dr. Atomic) through a new lens.

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