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Essential Arts: A controversial maestro, Oscars architecture and another side of Mamet

I'm Kelly Scott, the arts and culture editor for The Times. Here's this week's look at the stories you shouldn't miss:

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Valery Gergiev has a long memory

Everywhere he goes, Russian maestro Valery Gergiev draws protesters alongside the music lovers. A friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a supporter of Putin's policies in Ukraine, Gergiev is the most controversial figure in the classical music world. Critic Mark Swed interviewed the mercurial conductor in New York, where he was leading the Metropolitan Opera. (Gergiev rarely speaks with the Western press.) Among his thoughts on music and what he's built in Russia's post-Soviet cultural scene, Gergiev answered Swed's questions about Crimea and Donetsk. "The Crimea issue is not something from five years ago or three years ago. You have to go back 200 years, 100 years and especially to the years of Nazi Germany. This is the key."

Personal space issues, even on the screen

This is what an architecture critic sees when he watches the Oscar-nominated movies this year: "Several of the year’s most-talked-about movies exploit the dramatic appeal of the constricted, labyrinthine, tightly packed, claustrophobic or paranoid space," writes Christopher Hawthorne. The bland hotel room in "Citizenfour." The camera's winding backstage journey in "Birdman." The charged confines of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in "Selma" -- all reflect "a culture that feels liberated as well as pinched, empowered but more often surveilled, by technology," Hawthorne says.

David Mamet like you've never seen him

There are profane gestures and then there's the Deaf West Theatre tackling David Mamet dialogue in American Sign Language. Its current show is “American Buffalo,” the 1975 Mamet play that introduced the playwright's signature style and penchant for F-bombs. For Deaf West actors, whose plays and musicals combine spoken word, ASL and supertitles, there are tricky distinctions between the sign for, say “coin,” and a seven-letter word for "idiot."

Celebrating -- and cultivating -- this Lunar New Year

Special Chinese New Year concerts and themed galas demonstrate the ways L.A. cultural groups are wooing Chinese Americans as audiences and donors. "It's critical that we consider how to engage this community meaningfully," said Rachel Fine, executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. What's at stake? At its gala, the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts recognized Eva Hsieh, the wife of Chinese-born billionaire Ming Hsieh; they give millions of dollars annually through a foundation, including $50 million to USC, David Ng wrote.

Save the date

Mark your calendars, Cumberbitches: You'll want to keep Oct. 15, 2016, open. National Theatre Live will broadcast Benedict Cumberbatch's sold-out London "Hamlet" to movie theaters around the globe.

Looking ahead, there will be a second season of Amazon's "Mozart in the Jungle," the comedy about a young South American maestro with a major American orchestra that is loosely based on the L.A. Philharmonic's Gustavo Dudamel. David Ng ticks off the things "Mozart in the Jungle" gets right -- and wrong -- about the classical music world.

Inside the veil

L.A. got a look inside the still-under-construction Broad museum of contemporary art this week. Here’s a tweet tour by @HawthorneLAT and the view inside the open house by Deborah Vankin and Times photographers.

What we’re reading

The New Yorker's piece on Jony Ive and Apple in the anniversary issue. -- Christopher Hawthorne

The second "Wow, Minneapolis is so affordable" story I’ve read in the last month. Starving artists, I guess there's more than the Guthrie and Garrison Keillor. (And that pesky polar vortex.) --Kelly Scott

CurbedLA.com's Adrian Glick Kudler drew up a bingo card of the L.A. cliches that cycle through Left Coast stories in the New York Times. --K.S.

Suggestions? Requests?

Message kelly.scott@latimes.com with thoughts about what you'd like to see in this newsletter. And for the Oscar fans among you, The Times will have extensive live coverage starting at 1 p.m. today from the red carpet.

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