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Yuval Sharon: L.A.'s Culture Brought and Kept Him Here

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Yuval Sharon by Katerina Goode
Yuval Sharon by Katerina Goode

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from Yuval Sharon, artistic director at opera company The Industry:

"I was born and raised in Chicago. My parents are Israeli and first came to America so my father could complete his PhD in engineering at Northwestern University. He then got a job in Chicago, which brought him back to America after returning to Israel for three years.

"I was supposed to hate Los Angeles. At least that's what I was told by people I'd meet -- not my parents! -- ever since my freshman year at UC Berkeley and all the way through my time in New York. L.A. apparently didn't have any culture and was only about Hollywood and crass commercialism.

"When I took the job as assistant director for Achim Freyer's "Ring" cycle at L.A. Opera, I was told over and over again that I would be starved for anything beyond skin-deep stimulation and would be relieved to come home to New York.

"It didn't quite work out that way - in fact, it got harder and harder to go back to New York each time I would come to Los Angeles for one of the "Ring" installments. It wasn't just the seduction of sunshine and smoothies, although the transition back to New York's concrete and crowds was always harsh. Instead, it was the discovery of both an incredibly innovative and progressive cultural life, as well as a fantastically enthusiastic attitude to the arts, that first made me consider making L.A. a home.

"To quote Marcel Duchamp, I believe the audience completes an art work, and a real assessment of a city's cultural life begins for me with a look at the audience, the community that keeps it alive. At performances of the operas in the "Ring" cycle, you could hear a pin drop: the audience was full of active, attentive listeners and perceivers.

"I went to my first L.A. Phil concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall: a Green Umbrella concert with a phenomenal Ligeti piece at the center of the program. The overriding temperature in the house spoke to the audience's delight and wonder. This was an enormously refreshing attitude to be confronted with and changed my engagement with the work itself.

"It didn't take long to figure out why audiences in LA approached the new with such curiosity and enthusiasm: everywhere I looked, new and contemporary music was being performed and advocated for. Monday Evening Concerts programmed Grisey's rarely performed "Les Espaces Acoustiques" and there was a line around the door. Jacaranda had full houses for Messiaen. L.A. Phil's Green Umbrella series was not an after-thought or a duty but clearly a central part of their mission.

"Suddenly it made sense to me why Achim Freyer was invited to do the "Ring" cycle in Los Angeles: I didn't know another city in America that would be more open to his unconventional vision.

"I'm not sure what the exact turning-point was, but certainly a 'light bulb' moment occurred after visiting the home of Arnold Schoenberg: I knew that Los Angeles was the home of so many German emigres during World War II, but being confronted with the physical reality of Schoenberg's house had a huge impact on me.

"To discover that one of (if not the most) important European composer of the 20th century felt at home in Los Angeles transformed the cityscape for me: I couldn't view Los Angeles' cultural life the same way after a personal encounter with a layer of its cultural archeology.

"A similar moment of awe happened visiting the Villa Aurora, where Brecht worked with the actor Charles Laughton on the world premiere of my all-time favorite play, "Galileo." And all around me were the landmarks of John Cage, whose love of freedom and experimentation suddenly struck me as a distinct characteristic of the city.

"At some point, the layers started adding up, and I realized that Los Angeles was an inspiration and the perfect home for the work I wanted to do.

"I decided to make an ambitious start by founding a company called The Industry, a home for new and experimental opera. I wanted a place for the pieces I had workshopped in New York but were too unconventional to find their proper audience in the existing operatic landscape.

"Our first production, "Crescent City," opened [May 10, 2012] in a warehouse in Atwater Village: a mega-collaboration with composer Anne LeBaron, poet Douglas Kearney, six visual artists, eight singers, six actors, eighteen musicians, and a huge design team. All but one of the 60 participants in creating the opera are artists based in Los Angeles. The overwhelming response and support we have received has confirmed to me what I have been discovering about L.A.'s adventurous audience.

"My arrival story isn't particularly exciting in terms of the logistics (airplanes, cross-country movers, the usual), but the mental shifts I made on my way have been a rewarding lesson in fostering open-mindedness, trusting intuition, and realizing the importance of discovering life for yourself. I hope to call L.A. a home for many years to come. "

-- Yuval Sharon
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)

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