Saturday, December 29, 2012

Year's end work

    High Storm

    Acrylic, ink and pastel on panel
    20" X 48" w/ Aluminum bar frame
    $1440 - Origional
    $750 - Full size limited edition print
    $400 - Full size open edition print

    This piece was a fun adventure. The image was an idea, then took on a life of it's own - 
    dictating the direction and elements it needed. One needs to be led now and then

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Isaiah 5:20-24 - Darkness for Light

New Work - Christmas Eve

Based on Isaiah 5:20-24 
 20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
 21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
 22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:
 23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
 24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
This is probably the most abstract of my metaphors on Isaiah - and will probably become a trend. There are many graphic elements; lines, curves, color elements that have little to do with the metaphors contained in the painting.
The metaphors include the three pairs of color patches that represent verse 20 i.e. the red and white representing Evil and Good. Verse 22 is abstractly shown with the dark wine color running from the top outside corners down through the middle of the grey/black crossing bars. Verse 24 is indicated with the fire and "flowers" with rotting roots.
Isaiah here is speaking to the house of Judah at Jerusalem (actually all occupants of the city). They are wicked enough to be spoken of as the chaff and stubble with roots of rottenness and the blossoms as dust. 
Many of my earlier Isaiah works had no written mention of the scriptural metaphors, others started to have notes. Here I have written a portion of the scripture to help viewers understand both the written and visual metaphors.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Our children are being killed... are we allowing it?

I would have posted this next April 20th as my daughter Tami was a survivor of the Columbine High School shootings on that day.
This week, it has become time for this posting........



Guess our national leaders didn't expect this. On Thursday, Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee. What he said to our national l
eaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful.

They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every sociologist, every psychologist, and every so-called expert! These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness.. The following is a portion of the transcript:

"Since the dawn of creation there has been both good & evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers. 

"The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used.. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart. 

"In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA - because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder I would be their strongest opponent 

I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy -- it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.

Your laws ignore our deepest needs, Your words are empty air. You've stripped away our heritage, You've outlawed simple prayer. Now gunshots fill our classrooms, And precious children die. You seek for answers everywhere, And ask the question "Why?" You regulate restrictive laws, Through legislative creed. And yet you fail to understand, That God is what we need! 

"Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs -- politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts. 

"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America , and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA -- I give to you a sincere challenge.. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone! My daughter's death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!" - Darrell Scott

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Back to Basics

My wife has often expressed, when she looks at my work that her favorite works of mine are those that include geometric patterns. Take note: you should always listen to your wife!

Trying to be objective I have to admit that she is right. As an architect, that is how I have been trained. I love expressionist art's freedom and dynamics; yet whenever I try to express myself this way I'm often unhappy with the results. Yes, things have been trashed!. The problem is that I'm just not comfortable with being spontaneous - I tend to the tedious; I have a pile of sketches waiting to be worked on; when I get to a certain point in a work I usually photograph it and in PhotoShop go through the pains of "what if you tried this... or that". "Sentience" started out as a very loose, large piece. It was on the easel for quite some time, being glared at. It finally was painted over and became a work of geometric expressionism.

I've been working on a series of smaller pieces (12"x16") as a lesson in self limitation. The series still has more to come; but it will be interupted now by a work based on Isaiah 5:20-24 - and will probably be the most non-representational work in the Isaiah series. Attached are the three small pieces completed: "Que"; "Looming Darkness" and "Moon Rising at Giza".

More later....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Exhibit, exhibit, exhibit

Yes, as an artist that's the name of the game.... mind you, sales and commissions don't hurt either - but to get those you just have to be seen. Therefore, some good news:

Lark Studio
7:26pm (about a minute ago)
Good news: "Isaiah 40A - The Grass Withereth" was accepted at the Springville Museum of fine arts 27th Annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah Exhibition. Also accepted were two works by my friend J. Kirk Richards. I was sorry to not see the names of a couple of other friends that I was looking for.

List of Accepted Works

Lloyd Ray Knowles
The Grass Withereth - Isaiah 40A: 6-8

But that' not all and, unfortunately I haven't been posting here as often as I ought!

The Logan (UT) Fine Art Gallery is showing "Isaiah 3 - I Shall Give Children to be Their Princes"

The Utah County Art Gallery is showing "Ethereal Gates" and "Walking on Water" (prize winner)

The County Art Board needed to fill the month of December as the scheduled exhibit backed out and decided to show the work of board members - I'll have to decide what to hang.

I've been asked to provide a solo exhibit at a new gallery opening about a block away from the new Convention Center in Provo, UT during January.

I need to get to work. I am planning a new series of small works for the January show. When the first is done, I'll post it here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Art devastation in NYC

We all worry about the people who's lives were affected by the storm. This story shouldn't detract from those feelings - but many things, historical and cultural were also lost:

  • 11/1/12 at 6:11 PM
  • 71Comments
  • Saltz’s Devastating Tour Through Chelsea’s Ruined Art Galleries

    Workers mop out the Gagosian Gallery as a Henry Moore sculpture stands in a puddle behind them.
    I live downtown, in the part of Manhattan without power. Like many, my nights have been long, dark, cold, and unnervingly quiet. With no Internet access, cell phone, or news I was antsy, and felt the urge to wander. On day two, wondering how the galleries in Chelsea had weathered the storm, I seized the opportunity to leave my apartment and head west. And when I got there, my art-heart sunk.
    Widespread devastation was in painful evidence in scores and scores of ground floor galleries between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Almost every ground floor gallery had been inundated with four or more feet of water. All of the many basement storage facilities were flooded. Computers and desk equipment were wiped out. Reams and reams of irretrievable historical material stored in notebooks and gallery files were washed away, destroyed. Sculptures, crates, furniture, and paintings floated inside water-filled galleries, ramming walls and other works of art. Whole shows were destroyed. Desks floated free. Glass doors had shattered from the pressure of the water inside the galleries. Walls already reeked of mildew or had rotted through.
    Damage to art has been far-reaching. I had to turn away when I saw Belgium painter Luc Tuymans going into David Zwirner to inspect a waterlogged painting of his. I watched outside Printed Matter as box after box of their own printed editions and titles were brought up from the basement and thrown into dumpsters. All lost. Outside, on almost all sidewalks, there were massive piles of cardboard, plastic, and crates. Inside each of these containers had been artworks that had been soaked. I saw stunned gallerists un-framing works on paper, setting them out to dry on any available surface. Other dealers in work boots pushed crates out of spaces, onto the sidewalks, straight into dumpsters. One woman drove in 50 five-gallon containers of gas from upstate to fill the many pumping generators. Volunteer restoration experts went from gallery to gallery to inspect works, separate the salvageable from the lost. It was an art MASH unit. I saw paintings being carried from Friedrich Petzel's flooded 22nd Street space to dry storage in his new space on 18th Street. From the outside it looked as though a bomb had gone off inside 303 Gallery. Ditto many other galleries. I saw torrents of water rushing out of Gagosian's cavernous 21st Street space. When I ducked under the door I saw a large lone Henry Moore sculpture standing in inches of water. A sub-ground level space on West 19th Street, filled as if it were a swimming pool, had paintings floating in more than fifteen feet of water. 
    I asked dealers if they had insurance. Most have it for the work. Some have it for flood damage. Most don't have any insurance other than on the art. This could spell the end of many galleries small and large.
    Many ridicule Chelsea galleries as flesh-eating pariahs. I think they're part of our life blood, the collective organism that in many ways makes New York one of the most thriving centers for art on earth. These ridiculed and reviled galleries are places you can go for free, run by strange people with visions who want to help artists by showing and selling their work. It's become an international pastime to attack these galleries simply for being what they are: large and commercial. I love them. All. More than ever.
    Walk through Chelsea in the next couple of weeks as clean-up and repair continues. Notice that some spaces look so wrecked that it'll be extraordinarily hard for them to get back on their feet. Many galleries will somehow have to try and rebuild while getting through the next couple of months of not being open or being able to show or sell art, all while still paying rent and bills. Even the most cold-hearted gallery bashers should wish the best for all these galleries. Every one. Palaces of art and mom-and-pop shows. Right now, along with much of our beautiful city, Chelsea galleries are going through hell. A huge part of the New York art world has suffered a colossal blow. Thinking about New York without its density of galleries is like not being able to think about New York at all. Grim.

    Friday, September 28, 2012

    From the studio

    OK, a full week of tours, open house and a meeting at my studio. Grateful for all who came. Many meaningful comments. Now it's great to be back working. Latest work almost complete - looking for a name....

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Stravinsky on creativity

    by Sam McNerney | Source: Scientific American
    By the time he put the finishing touches on the Rite of Spring in November of 1912 in the Châtelard Hotel in Clarens, Switzerland, Stravinsky had spent three years studying Russian pagan rituals, Lithuanian folk songs and crafting the dissonant sacre chord, in which an F-flat major combines with an E-flat major with added minor seventh. The rehearsal process wasn’t easy either. Stravinsky fired the German pianist and the orchestra and performers only had a few opportunities to practice at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, where the Rite debuted in May 1913. But the Russian born composer pulled it off, and his composition now stands as a 20th century masterpiece. Critics, of course, panned it terribly.
    Stravinsky is one of seven eminent creators of the 20th century profiled by Harvard professor Howard Gardner in his book Creating Minds. The others are Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein. One can debate the list but Gardner’s foremost conclusion is uncontroversial: creative breakthroughs in any domain require strenuous work and a willingness to challenge the establishment.

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Open House at Lark Studio

    The culmination of 4 months hard work and my studio space has grown by three times? There are a lot of works on display but, after the Utah County Artist Guild meeting here next Thursday, it will become a more bare bones artist work place.
    Thanks to all who came!! Your interest, support and comments were wonderful.

    Thursday, August 30, 2012

    Part quoted:

    I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener."
    Arvo Pärt

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Van Gogh's agony

    Personally, I don't think such a powerful statement should be taken so lightly...

    "I put my heart and my soul into my work, 

    and have lost my mind in the process." 

    Vincent Van Gogh

    Saturday, August 25, 2012

    Adams and "The Other Mary"

    I know I don't post here nearly often enough. My studio will be finished in a couple of weeks (look for postings here and on FB) and I should be able to settle into better habits.

    The following article is about the premier production of John Adams "The Other Mary" - and the article muses about who exactly that was. It is clear that they are referring to Mary Madeleine, who they note as one of Jesus' closest disciples and the woman that saw him resurrected at the tomb - "woman, why weepest thou?".

    Just to make my position clear before posting the article: I firmly believe that Mary Madeleine was the spouse of Jesus. There are a number of reasons, based on the teachings of the Christ at we are sent to this earth - among them are:

    • Obtaining a mortal body which can then, like Jesus' be resurrected.
    • Taking upon ourselves necessary ordinances such as baptism.
    • Being married and fulfilling the commandment to Adam and Eve to replenish the earth.

    Of course there are more. Jesus made it clear that his baptism was to "fulfill all righteousness" - in other words, without writing at length here, Jesus was required as a mortal (though the Son of God) to fulfill all those things that mortals are here to do to. That would include at least marriage and, probably children. That, of course, does not sit well with many Christians; but it is, of course, part of my testimony of the reality of Christ and his position in the Godhead.

    So when composer John Adams' new oratorio-opera "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" had its world premiere in May at Walt Disney Concert Hall, it touched off a lively discussion among a handful of religious scholars and bloggers. At issue is a matter that has divided biblical students for centuries and once prompted a ruling by Pope St. Gregory I the Great.
    In Adams' oratorio, which has a libretto by acclaimed avant-garde director Peter Sellars, the other Mary of the title is Mary Magdalene, Jesus' most steadfast female disciple, who was present at the Crucifixion and later beheld the risen Christ. The Adams-Sellars work also identifies Mary Magdalene as the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom the Christian savior raised from the dead, according to the New Testament.
    (Adams' piece, which received strong reviews from The Times' Mark Swed, Alex Ross of the New Yorker and others, will be presented in a fully staged version next year at Disney Hall.)
    But according to Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "God: A Biography," the Gospels make clear that Mary of Magdala (a.k.a. Mary Magdalene) is not the sister of Martha and Lazarus. That Mary is Mary of Bethany, another woman entirely, Miles said.
    What's more, Miles wrote in an email to The Times, the Gospel of Matthew (27:61) refers to yet another Mary who was sitting opposite the crucified Jesus' tomb with Mary Magdalene. She, not Mary Magdalene, is the real "other Mary," wrote Miles, a Pasadena resident and former Times book editor.
    Miles wasn't the only onlooker to raise questions about the oratorio's conception of its central character. Several readers, including a Southern California pastor, also sent emails to The Times asserting that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the so-called other Mary are three people.
    Yet like the Richard III of Shakespeare's play, the Julius Caesar of Handel's opera, or the Jesus ofAndrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera, the biblical characters depicted in "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" are dramatic creations and musical avatars more than strictly historical figures.
    In an interview before his work's premiere, Adams said that in constructing his version of Mary Magdalene he wasn't relying solely on biblical accounts, which he described as sketchy and "fractal." Rather, Adams said, he viewed Mary Magdalene as "an archetype of a woman who's had a hard past." In a sense she is a universal female figure, an Everywoman who transcends any specific time and place.
    Sellars said that although "our fact-oriented age" demands concrete, empirical answers, the life and identity of Mary Magdalene, like those of many religious figures, is shrouded in profound mystery.
    "So often we put spiritual matters in very materialistic terms, like, 'Now wait a minute, where did she grow up, and what school did she go to, and what kind of car did she drive?' And the Bible doesn't include any of that stuff," said Sellars, who'll direct the staged version of the work.
    "For me, the reason we approach this material with poetry and music and exactly not with theology is because then it begins to yield some of its meanings and become more approachable for a wider range of people, possibly, and become a kind of mirror in very surprising and diverse ways that are not theologically oriented."
    In contrast to her New Testament counterpart, the Mary Magdalene of Adams' oratorio inhabits a space that extends beyond the minimal words that the Gospels devote to her. Sellars' libretto incorporates writings by Native American poet and novelist Louise Erdrich, Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos and the influential Catholic journalist-social activist Dorothy Day. Mary Magdalene (sung at Disney Hall by mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor) gives voice to a number of these women.
    "Dorothy Day is absolutely not Mary Magdalene. And Rosario Castellanos is certainly not Mary Magdalene," Sellars said. "And yet what's beautiful is the most private and intensely personal thoughts of each of those women have spoke something that creates a shared experience that reaches across centuries."
    Sellars also pointed out that the libretto deliberately refers to the main character "Mary Magdalene" only in those instances where she is called that in the Gospel of John.
    "What's so marvelous is the verse in John that names the women at the foot of the cross, there are always three or four Marys standing there," Sellars said. "And so that's the other reason why the title is 'Other,' is it's the other Mary, whoever you want to call her, however you want to construe her. It's the woman who's not Jesus' mother."
    Questions about whether the "other" Mary is one woman, two or three date to the earliest centuries of Christianity. In the traditions of the Eastern Church, which dominated the Balkans, the Middle East, Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, the three women were regarded as distinct and separate.
    But by the 6th century, Western church traditions identified Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany. Pope St. Gregory I (c. 540-604) endorsed that view also. But some modern religious scholars have continued to challenge it.
    Miles acknowledged in an email that countless artists have used varying degrees of poetic license in their depictions of biblical personages.
    "If a playwright wanted to make Jesus Mary of Magdalene's son for the purposes of some dramatic effect, he could do so," Miles wrote. "Both the legal and, at this late date (which is to say after 'Godspell' and 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'The Life of Brian' and so forth), even the popular traditions of our country pose no obstacle whatsoever to his doing so.
    "By the same token, however, I can at least speculate that the libretto [of Adams' work] would not have suffered much if Martha of Bethany was merely a friend of Mary Magdalene's rather than her sister," Miles added.
    Sellars said that he was not "in any way dismissing or discounting the serious work of theologians who have really debated fine points to try and articulate the details that are inherent in these texts."
    "At the same time, there is something that is not going to reveal itself to any kind of parsing," he said. "And that is the immense mystery of what is being discussed."

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    Protect Your Children

    One in five teenagers will experiment with art. Know the warning signs of art. Please protect your children!

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    Nixon In China - John Adams

    Nixon in China

    by Lloyd Knowles on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 8:44pm ·From a newspaper interview with John Adams on his opera "Nixon in China". Great stuff:

    John Adams on first -- and perhaps favorite -- opera, 'Nixon in China'

    By Richard Scheinin
    Posted:   06/07/2012 03:00:00 PM PDT
    Updated:   06/08/2012 03:18:30 PM PDT

    Nixon in China
    U.S. President Richard Nixon (Brian Mulligan), left, meets Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Simon O'Neill) in a scene from the San Francisco Opera production of John Adams' "Nixon in China," Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)
    It's been 25 years since John Adams' "Nixon in China" premiered at Houston Grand Opera, invigorating the operatic world. Inspired by President Richard M. Nixon's historic visit to Beijing in 1972, it was Adams' first opera, and it's one he still holds dear. In "Hallelujah Junction," his autobiography, Adams writes that "Nixon" contains "moments that are among my favorites of all the music I've ever composed."
    Friday at War Memorial Opera House, "Nixon in China" opens in a production from San Francisco Opera, the company's first staging of what many consider to be an Adams masterwork. Last month, while the Berkeley-based composer spent some time at his cabin in the north woods of Sonoma, I phoned him to discuss the

    opera. For the next hour, while watering his tomato patch and tossing a tennis ball to his dog, a pointer named Eloise, Adams waxed about "Nixon in China."
    Q John, reams have been written about "Nixon in China" over the years. In your mind, what's it all about?
    A I was drawn to it first of all because I think the presidency and politics is really very much at the core of American consciousness. It's certainly been brought home to us in a very rude and plain way that you can't miss during these recent GOP debates, and it will be more evident as this election year rolls around.
    And I think there's drama and enormous potential for philosophical reflection, like Shakespeare found in

    the stories of the English kings. Of course, you have to do it in this day and age with a certain amount of irony because presidential politics is itself an exercise in irony... what with all the flip-flopping and various candidates trying to conceal skeletons in their closets.
    Q Is "Nixon in China" an exercise in irony?
    A I didn't start out saying, "This happens to be ironic." He always was a complicated figure, and he never was a likeable figure; I don't think even the people who voted for him particularly liked him. But there was this strange brew of poignancy and sentimentality, and a capacity for truly malevolent behavior -- the enemies list and the horrible things that were on those tapes about blacks and Jews, pretty awful things.
    He was a wonderful topic for a composer. We, as dramatic composers, want our characters to be complex, and we don't want them to be all good or all bad. We want them to have the capacity to be noble, as well as wicked and paranoid and ridiculous.
    But the problem, in terms of production, is that "Nixon in China" is an incredibly difficult opera to stage, because it lives right on the cusp between satire and the maudlin on the one hand,

    and something that's quite visionary and, I think, quite genuinely and uniquely American.
    And I think the danger in staging it is to demean the characters; Nixon is so easily ridiculed. You're old enough to remember those late night comedians after Watergate. You remember Rich Little, holding out the peace sign. That's what everyone expected, that it would be more of a cartoon.
    And a lot of the initial reviews had a certain puzzlement. I remember the Village Voice saying, "What's the big idea of treating Pat Nixon, the most vacuous person who ever inhabited the White House, as a serious person?"
    Q After 25 years, do you think people's responses, generally, have changed?
    A I think Nixon now has a better place in people's minds, given how politics has evolved in the 40 years since he visited China. Remember that Nixon used wage and price controls, and he created the National Endowment for the Arts. A lot of the things he did -- if Barack Obama tried to do them now, he would be called a Communist.
    I wouldn't have been interested in writing this opera if I couldn't find Nixon's humanity. I just found a photo torn from a newspaper after the death of his wife Pat, and he's crying, and he has a handkerchief up to his nose, and it's an incredibly touching picture. You're just reminded that this was a man who did have a heart, and he was capable of vision and humanity at the same time that he had a really dark and manipulative side.
    Q Let's get back to what the opera is about.
    A Nixon meeting Mao represented a collision of the two competing visions of how one might live one's life in a societal framework: Nixon representing the market economy and capitalism, all the things that we hear about all the time now; unfettered, unregulated freedom to make one's fortune; and on the other hand, Mao representing communism and socialism, where in its best form, in its most idealistic form, no one goes hungry and everyone gets a chance in life -- and of course all the problems that come with that -- tyranny and control and violence.
    Q Pat Nixon and Madam Mao are both terrific characters in the opera. Will you talk about them?
    A Pat Nixon is the ideal stand-by-your-man Republican wife, the role of the woman as always standing in the background, but representing core values. Again we saw that very much on display in the recent (primary) campaign, whenever you saw Newt Gingrich or Romney with their spouses. And anyone who ever steps out of the background, as Hillary Clinton did, gets severely criticized.
    Q But in a lot of ways, Pat Nixon is such a touching figure in the opera.
    A When Pat has her moment, she thinks about homeland, American values and Norman Rockwell images. And the poetry that (librettist) Alice Goodman gave her in Act II is really wonderful poetry. Alice managed to summon up these images that are routinely abused by advertising and political slogans, images of sitting around the living room table. Alice did it in a way that's so absolutely sincere and from the heart; when Pat's singing, you're really able to appreciate those values.
    Q What about Madame Mao?
    A She was in her younger years a kind of frustrated artist -- in fact a movie actress -- but she gave that up in search of power, at which she became extremely adept. She was Machiavellian, a terrifying behind-the-throne power, a killer. It makes you almost think of the frustrated painter that the young Adolf Hitler was. At the same time, I felt there was always something very erotic about her.
    Q The libretto works with that idea, too.
    A You know, I conducted "Nixon" at the Met last year, and in many ways really became re-acquainted with it. And I just love the libretto. I love every moment in it. I can't believe there are still people who complain about it being arch or dense or incomprehensible. I think it's just fantastic. Alice caught the tone of the Chinese and the official Communist utterances. She caught the Middle-American tone of the U.S. politicians.
    Q How did the music strike you, when you went back and conducted it?
    A I was surprised by how minimalist the music is. When I started opening the score again, I hadn't really looked at it or conducted it in 10 or 15 years -- and compared to what I now do, I was shocked by all those bald arpeggios, bar after bar! It's a kind of writing I would never do now. It's not a pure stylistic trope the way early Philip Glass is -- or the way late Philip Glass continues to be, for that matter. (Just two months ago I conducted Philip's Ninth Symphony with the L.A. Philharmonic and was reminded how closely he has adhered to his minimalist technique.) But in 1985 I definitely was influenced and had a great debt to (Glass's opera) "Satyagraha," which I think is a masterpiece.
    But I also mixed many other things in it: American swing-band music and Glenn Miller, and when the Air Force One lands on the runway, it does so to a kind of pompous newsreel music with brass fanfares and burbling woodwinds. When the Nixons are hosted by the Chinese at a performance of a Communist ballet in the second act, the music I composed was a sort of satire of the terrible scores these ballets are set to. Because the music to these Cultural Revolution ballets were often written by committees of composers, I wrote something that would sound equally stylistically confusing. So I had some fun with that, writing a ballet that, in the same confused manner as those ballets, sounds like everything and the kitchen sink-- from marching music, to tawdry Romantic swooning to graphic bump and grind.
    Q You've written that "Nixon in China" contains some of your very favorite moments out of all the music you've composed. Will you name one favorite moment?
    A I still love the "News" aria, the idea of this president coming off the plane, and while he's still shaking hands with all these dignitaries, he's looking straight in the camera and saying, "Look how great I am -- I'm like an Apollo astronaut, landing on the moon."
    Q Are you surprised by the opera's lasting power?
    A I never would have imagined it. I guess it's the most produced American opera, at least of its size. There's also Mark Adamo's "Little Women." And with "Nixon in China," at one point this spring, there was a production in Kansas City and one in Portland, Ore., and one in Paris. You can see the Paris production online, at the Châtelet, a very sparse stage set.
    Q You also wrote in "Hallelujah Junction" that you faced a steep learning curve, while composing the opera.
    A I didn't know what I was doing in a lot of ways. I knew (Wagner's) "Tristan..." and the Mozart operas and (Debussy's) "Pelleas...," but I'm not an opera-goer, in general. And Alice Goodman had never done anything of this size. But luckily we had (director) Peter Sellars, who was then maybe 30, and he was already very, very experienced and skilled in opera, because he'd done the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas. And he was famous for those; they were very provocative and deeply thought and felt works.
    Peter had a kind of innate dramaturgical sense. You know, a lot of operas are created these days by people -- composers, librettists and directors -- none of whom have a refined sense of the theater. And if you look at a career like Verdis's or Puccini's, you can see how it takes a long time to gain that knowledge and experience; these guys wrote dozens of operas before they got it right.... So I was very very lucky to be able to work from the start with Peter, because I'm sure I couldn't otherwise have created something with the staying power of "Nixon in China" without his extraordinary theatrical genius to guide me.
    Some recent productions I've seen of "Nixon" have borrowed Peter's overall design and action, but they make cartoons out of Nixon, Kissinger and Mao and miss completely not only the subtlety of the characterization implicit in Alice Goodman's libretto, but also fail to find the delicate balance between the work's humor and its historical and philosophical sweep.
    And now we've done "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" (which opened last month in Los Angeles). It's my seventh collaboration with Peter, after 30 years. And all of them get (performed). "The Death of Klinghoffer" had two different productions this year. "A Flowering Tree" is getting done in Atlanta, and even "I Was Looking at the Ceiling," which was sort of moribund for a while, is starting to get performed.
    Q You've told me in the past that you don't consider yourself an all-out opera guy.
    A I will say this: The bar is so low on the theatrical aspect of opera that I just can't bear to go to the opera most of the time, because what happens on stage is so terrible. Opera companies hire people who specialize in coming into a city and slapping something together really quickly, and you have the big-name star who can only be there for a designated length of time, and the budget is this and that.... When you think of the astonishing productions and imaginative things happening in theater these days, and then you look at what passes for opera....
    And when you look at the season of most of the opera houses, I would say that 50 percent of the operas don't interest me. I'm not particularly a fan of "Madama Butterfly." I kind of like "Traviata" once in a while. But they recycle these things over and over, because they're like "The Lion King"; they pay the bill.
    I love Wagner. I'll even sit through a bad production of Wagner, because the music is so wonderful.
    Q I'm guessing you're a history buff. Your operas have taken on these big historical themes.
    A I'm drawn to opera, because it is such a large canvas, and I think that themes deep in the psyche of a nation can be addressed in a way that no other art form can quite do it. Maybe a really long novel can do it, or a film by a really great filmmaker, like Coppola was in his "Godfather" period.
    The thing about opera is that the mixture of poetry and really good music and imaginative scenery -- you take those very potent art forms and you mix them together. And if it's done well, which is rarely, it has the potential of raising the imaginative realm to a very high level. And history has that in it; that was the point with "Doctor Atomic" (Adams' opera, which debuted at San Francisco Opera in 2005). Whether I got it right or not, that story was one of the great stories of 20th-century American history. You had this genius (J. Robert Oppenheimer), one of the great intellectuals of American history, making this death machine....
    These are big topics. Who wouldn't be drawn to them?
    Q What's next?
    A My radar is out. I'm almost embarrassed to say how hard I'm looking. I feel it's what I do best.
    Q You mean, writing operas?
    A Yes. I enjoy writing symphonic works and string quartets, but I really do feel, if people are going to remember me for anything, it's likely to be for these works. And I really would like to continue this, but I'm just -- you'd be amazed how much I read, looking for the right subject. You know "Doctor Atomic" was suggested by (former San Francisco Opera general director) Pamela Rosenberg, and the moment I heard the idea, I knew it was right. And Peter (Sellars) suggested "Nixon in China."
    Q So what have you been reading in your hunt for another opera subject?
    A I read this 800- or 900-page book by Tony Judt, "Postwar," a pretty amazing book. And then the huge breakup between Sartre and Camus caught my attention for a while.... And I've been drawn to Arthur Koestler and more lately to Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a Holocaust survivor who became a hugely influential literary critic in Germany. And just the other day, I was listening to a New York Times podcast, and they were interviewing Robert Caro, who wrote his new volume of the Lyndon Johnson biography, and I went, "Hmmm."
    I've been looking for about five years. Of course, "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" is virtually an opera, in that it mixes the Passion story with writings by Dorothy Day, the mid-20th-century Catholic socialist.
    Q Let's circle back to Nixon. Was there an expectation that he might attend a performance of "Nixon in China" when it first opened?
    A Well, here we were, with this opera about all these people who were still alive. And I remember the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) production in Brooklyn (in 1987). For all six or seven performances, Harvey Lichtenstein, BAM's director, had a special section in the balcony roped off, because he never gave up hope that Nixon would come -- which would've been a real publicity coup. I knew it never was going to happen.
    Q Did Nixon watch it on PBS, at least?
    A I remember once being on the radio with Nixon's White House attorney. What was his name? Leonard Garment. He was on the board of BAM, and he was a big music guy. I guess he'd been a jazz sax player, and somebody asked him, "Well, did Nixon at least watch it when it was on 'Great Performances'?" And he said, "Of course, he did! He watched and read everything that was written and performed about him." This was in the days before you Googled yourself.
    Q In any event, you didn't particularly want Nixon and Kissinger in the balcony?
    A I was relieved that they never came to a performance. Because my Nixon was a kind of presidential everyman. And I think it probably would've skewed the impression people had of the opera toward it being a personality thing; whereas I was really trying to create a mythic archetype -- which I hope I did.
    I think it would have turned it into too much of a media event and taken away from the art.
    Q What do you think "Nixon in China" set in motion? People cite it as among the first of the "CNN operas," driven by contemporary news events. There's been a wave of them, straight through to "Heart of a Soldier" last year at San Francisco Opera, about 9-11.
    A If we set anything in motion, it was the idea that opera could be about our lives, and it could address very, very large issues of what one might call our collective experience, whether it's the atomic bomb or terrorism or the clash between political ideologies.
    Q Any new projects on the horizon?
    A First, I'm going to spend some time with "Absolute Jest" (his work for symphony orchestra and string quartet, inspired by motifs from Beethoven and recently premiered by the San Francisco Symphony). I'll work on it this summer, because the string quartet is such a kind of hyper-active and electric medium to work with, and then you add orchestra to it. I think some people might have been exhausted by it. Maybe it needs a little air. I'm going to think it out a bit.
    Also, for years, I've loved some recordings from the '60s, for sax and orchestra, particularly this great album by Stan Getz called "Focus." And there's this terrific saxophonist, Tim McAllister, who had a big part in my piece "City Noir." I thought how cool it would be to give him a whole piece. So I'll work this summer on "Absolute Jest," and then I'll do that.
    Q Your first saxophone concerto?

    A Why not?