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Eva Soltes

February 1, 2007

It was Mark Swed, a music critic at the LA Times, who suggested I speak to Eva Soltes. I'm working to a very tight deadline on a feature about Lou Harrison's Young Caesar (an opera of his which will receive its premiere at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in mid February) for the Times. I had given ample thought to interviewing what, in my lack of expertise, I had considered to be the main players in the project (ie members of the artistic team behind the production etc). But Soltes wasn't on my list at all. I hadn't even heard of her.

Nevertheless, I called her up and she invited me to her house and studio in The Mission. It was one of the loveliest couple of hours I've spent in "interview mode." Eva is a dancer, filmmaker and an old acquaintance of Harrison's. They've known each other since the mid-1970s. Since then she's been everything from a confidante and an administrator to a producer and dancer for him. Swed described her as a "father figure", which she found hilarious when I told her. She's been working on a documentary about the composer for about 15 years. People say she won't finish it, but I think she will.

Eva (who looks a bit like Judi Dench with her silvery cropped locks, slightly flaring nostrils and wicked smile) took me down to her studio and told me the story of her and Lou. Among other things, Lou wrote a dance for her, entitled Ariadne. She's traveled all over the world with him. She teaches Indian dance one-on-one to her pupils right there in her studio in front of all her film editing equipment. She's mad for new music and has made a variety of programs and films over the years on the subject, documenting everyone from Harrison to Conlon Nancarrow (whom she helped bring to the US from Mexico) for the BBC and other outlets.

She likes to talk about herself a lot (I know Harrison's story is intertwined with hers in some ways, but from the way she spoke, you'd think I was writing a feature article about her, not the composer.) Nevertheless, there was something so warm and loving and engaging about her. I really enjoyed her stories. Even though I only spent a couple of hours in her company, I wish I could get to know Eva better. But after 40 years in San Francisco, she's moving into Harrison's wacky straw bale house in Joshua Tree National Park in a couple of months. She's planning to stage a bunch of musical events in the building (which Harrison constructed himself in the early 2000s.) I think I'm going to have to make a pilgrimage out there in late March when she's planning on staging her first event.

On days when being an arts journalist seems to make no sense, I need to remember experiences like meeting Eva. Spending time around people like her makes what I do make sense.

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