December 7, 2006
Maestro’s mission is to restore banned composers’ music
(Page 2 - Previous Page)The conductor has tried to right this musical wrong by recording nine CDs of Zemlinsky's late romantic-style music, among other projects.
He traces these endeavors to the influence of his parents, Catholic trade unionists who were both devout and politically radical. In their Queens, N.Y., home, they emphasized that "[if] you can undo an injustice, you must," the 56-year-old conductor says. They also supported Conlon's childhood love for music; after he saw his first opera at 11, he began playing the piano and took up the violin a year later.
Conlon went on to study at the prestigious Juilliard School, to conduct the New York Philharmonic at age 24 and to spend two decades in Europe, leading the Rotterdam Philharmonic in The Netherlands, serving as music director of the city of Cologne and as principal conductor of the Paris Opera. In 2004, he and his wife, Jennifer, decided to return to the United States, in part, so their two daughters could receive an American education.
Not long after, the call came from Placido Domingo at the Los Angeles Opera: The company's first music director, Kent Nagano, was leaving for the Munich Opera and would Conlon like to succeed him in July 2006?
"I was looking to reduce my workload, but his enthusiasm was so infectious, it was hard to resist," the conductor told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We talked about what my dreams and goals were, and he said yes to everything, [so] well, then, there was nothing to say no to." Conlon vowed to program core repertory alongside the "entartete Musik."
By the time he made his debut with Verdi's "La Traviata" in September, he was already planning performances of "Mahagonny" and other lost works. His March concerts will include a baritone aria from Ullman's "The Emperor of Atlantis," a parody of the Fuhrer, in which the titular leader is so bloodthirsty that he offends Death.
In 1943, Ullman scribbled the score on any paper he could find in Theresienstadt, including lists of prisoners to be transported to Auschwitz. When SS officials saw rehearsals of his insouciant opera, the 46-year-old himself was placed on those lists and shipped off to die with his cast and his librettist, Peter Kien. Yet his "Atlantis" manuscript survived; it was smuggled out of Theriesienstadt and resurfaced in London decades later.
During the March concerts, Conlon will also conduct excerpts from Schulhoff's "Flames," a Don Juan tale; and Zemlinsky's short opera, "A Florentine Tragedy," which spotlights a love triangle, adultery and murder.
Poignantly, the "Restored Voices" concerts are scheduled for March 7 and March 10 -- during the same period that L.A. Opera will perform Wagner's "Tannhäuser" (Feb. 24-March 18).
"I know Wagner was an anti-Semite," the conductor says. "But he was a great genius and wrote great music. As an artist and as someone who was a student and a lover of art, my first obligation is to reveal great art. I want to see Alexander Zemlinsky right next to Wagner. I want to see them both in the same season."
For information about the Los Angeles Opera performances, call (213) 972-8001 or visit www.losangelesopera.com.
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