Peter Sellars 2005 Recipient

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Renowned theater, opera and film director Peter Sellars is one of the most innovative and powerful forces in the performing arts. In the more than one hundred productions Sellars has directed across American and abroad, he has merged the nontraditional, multidisciplinary and multicultural arts creating extraordinary productions which bring together these various art forms and changer their roles in contemporary life.

A graduate of Harvard College, Peter Sellars studied in Japan, China and India before becoming artistic director of the Boston Shakespeare Company in Massachusetts. At age 26, he was selected to lead the American National Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Since then, Sellars has worked at theater and opera companies all over the world, and has guided numerous arts festivals including: the 1990 and 1993 Los Angeles Festival, a large-scale, international, intercultural, and interdisciplinary initiative mobilizing the arts; the 2002 Adelaide Festival in Australia; and the 2003 Venice Biennale International Festival of Theater in Venice, Italy, the 2006 New Crowned Hope, a festival in Vienna celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. He is a professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA. Among his numerous honors are the MacArthur Prize, the Erasmus Prize and Swedish Polar Music Prize.

In a career spanning four decades, Sellars has reshaped modern opera with his bold direction. A visionary force, Sellars is known for innovative re-interpretations of classic works. Whether it is Mozart, Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Sophocles, or the 16th-century Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu, Sellars is able to strike a universal chord with audiences, engaging contemporary social and political issues that resonate. He has established a reputation for bringing 20th-century operas to the stage, including works by Olivier Messaien, Paul Hindemith, and Gyorgy Ligeti, and for guiding the creation of new productions that have expanded the repertoire of modern opera.

With composer John Adams, a longtime collaborator, Sellars presented Nixon in China at the Houston Grand Opera in 1987, taking the production to numerous venues in the U.S. and around the world. A 1988 television production of the Sellars-directed opera for Great Performances on PBS earned an Emmy for Outstanding Classical Program in the Performing Arts. Other Adams/Sellars collaborations include The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) at the Opera National de la Monnaie, Brussels, Belgium; the nativity oratorio El Nino (2000) at the Theatre du Catelet; and Doctor Atomic (2005), about the development of the atomic bomb, at the San Francisco Opera.

Recent projects include Tan Dun’s composition Peony Pavilion; a Chicano version of Stravinsky’s The Story of a Soldier; the premiere production of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’amour de loin; Antonin Artaud’s radio play coupled with the poetry of the late June Jordan, For an End to the Judgment of God/Kissing God Goodbye staged as a press conference on the war in Afghanistan; and a new production of the Euripides play The Children of Herakles, focusing on the contemporary immigration and refugee issues experience, which has been presented in eight countries. Working in association with composer Osvaldo Golijov and librettist David Henry Hwang, Sellars is the driving force behind the creation of Ainadamar, about the life of the great Spanish actress Margarita Xirgu and the death of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, which premiered in July at the Santa Fe Opera. In 2004, Sellars teamed up with video artist Bill Viola and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen on The Tristan Project at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2011 he directed John Adam’s opera Nixon in China’s debut at the New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the production was broadcast to theaters around the world.

Selection Committee

David Henry Hwang, Chairman – David Henry Hwang’s work includes the plays M. Butterfly, Golden Child, Yellow Face and FOB, and the Broadway musicals Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival) and Disney’s Tarzan. He is also a screenwriter, and America’s most-produced living opera librettist. David is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE Award winner and a two-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. His recent play, Chinglish, recently seen on Broadway, won the 2011 Jeff Award for Best New Work, and was named Best American Play of 2011 by TIME Magazine. In 2012 he was the Residency One Playwright at NYC’s Signature Theatre, which produced a season of his plays, including the world premiere of his work, Kung Fu. He is the director of Columbia University’s School of the Arts’ M.F.A. program in playwriting.

Ken Brecher – Ken Brecher is the President of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Previously, he worked as the Executive Director of the Sundance Institute. Brecher has also served as President of the William Penn Foundation, Director of the Boston Children’s Museum, and Associate Artistic Director of the Mark Taper Forum. An anthropologist by training, he has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, including a research grant from the Getty Center for Education in the Arts and a Ford Foundation Fellowship for his study of Amazonian tribesmen in Brazil.

He serves on a number of boards, is a Trustee of the Wildwood School in Los Angeles, and is a member of the International Arts Advisory Council for the Wexner Center for the Arts. Brecher has lectured and published widely, and has served as an international consultant on current challenges facing arts leadership.

Red Burns – She was the Chair of the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and was named Tokyo Broadcasting System Chair in 1997. During the 1970’s, as co-creator and director of NYU’s Alternate Media Center, Burns designed and directed a series of telecommunications projects including two-way television for and by senior citizens and telecommunications applications to serve the developmentally disabled. This innovative research center set the stage for the creation of the ITP at NYU in 1979.  Burns received awards including induction into the New York Women in Communications, Inc. Matrix Hall of Fame, the Mayor of New York’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology, and was honored with a Distinguished Leadership Award from the New York Hall of Science. She served as a board member for the Charles Revson Foundation, The Art Director’s Club and Creative Capital, and the New York Times Digital Company Advisory Board, among others.