Swan Songs: A Departing Symphony Conductor’s Homage to Mahler’s Ninth

Program selection is an art in itself among symphony conductors, quite apart from everything they do at the podium. But some program choices come easy, which appeared to be the case this past weekend in Santa Rosa Symphony Conductor Bruno Ferrandis’s farewell concert after a robust 12-year tenure.

For his final concert weekend, the last performance of which I was privileged to see and hear on Monday night, he zeroed in on Gustav Mahler’s epic Ninth Symphony, long in duration (80+ minutes, depending on who’s conducting) and large as only an ambitious symphony can be in emotional force.

Mahler’s Ninth, quite uncoincidentally, is about endings, leave-takings, death, a subject it explores on a grand scale before it finally, ever so delicately, like the tiniest moth landing on a slowly swaying blade of grass, comes to rest and silence in a final movement wholly unlike any other in the repertoire.

Ferra...

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Wild With Desire: Eleanor Bass’s “Yours Always: Letters of Longing”

I’ve been luxuriating, which is to say, “reading slowly,” through a lovely book of letters on the subject of “longing.” The type that one human being has for another, sometimes reciprocated and sometimes, tragically, not. The editor, Eleanor Bass, an academic from King’s College London, has compiled quite the lineup of literary and cultural all-stars here, most of them at their abject, somewhat-miserable-and-desperate but florid selves, with which anyone who has ever hurtled over a cliff of wild desire for another’s acknowledgement, presence, breath, word, smell, arched eyebrow, anything, can surely sympathize.

Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, Henry the VIII, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Piaf, Graham Greene, Marie Curie—all here, plus quite a few more. That includes Richard Burton writing to that woman Liz who so tormented him, then her writing back, joining all the others who...

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“Death of a Salesman”: Parable for Our Times

My tattered, second-hand copy of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” on my shelf now nearly half a century, shows a cover price of 95 cents. One might be tempted to view that as emblematic and perfect for a now hoary mid-20th century period piece, almost quaint in its portrayal of desperate lives crushed by the weight of an outmoded American dream.

But the play is a period piece only in the way that “Othello” and “The Cherry Orchard” are, which is to say, the “period” it encompasses spans pretty much all of human existence, or at least that in which people have wrestled with matters of conscience and communication, purpose, honesty and authenticity.

Of particular note for our own era is its devastating portrayal of the wages of deception.

Willy Loman, the beleaguered salesman of the title, lives nearly his entire life as a matter of expediency...

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Brewpubs, Coffeehouses, and the Conundrums of Income Inequality

How much is income inequality baked into human existence as a hard-wired legacy of the Darwinian struggle for survival and its associated desires for security, comfort and joy? Even in modern democratic societies with supposedly flourishing economies and a stated intent to seek justice and the common good, is there any true escape from the radical wealth disparities that persist right in front of us whenever we open our laptops or take a walk beyond our front door?

One of the many conundrums facing those of us in the 1-, 10-, 25-  or even 50% of the population that lives in relative comfort is that however motivated we may feel to be generous and compassionate toward our fellow suffering humans, the plain truth is that all of us have to make hard and often discomfiting decisions in how much of our own comforts—in housing, food, drink, entertainment, future security and other aspects of the good life—we are...

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Brilliant Songs No. 1: Tom Russell’s “The Eyes of Roberto Duran”

So many great songs and songwriters, true poets who weave the disparate shards of life happening before their eyes into something intense, insightful, and profound as that life, every life, deserves. Seeing what we see only dimly or not at all, marching up to questions we shy from and coaxing from them words and images of beauty and inspiration or dead-on-the-money, troubling truth.

So it’s time to have a little more sustained fun with all that, in the form of a series hosted here at Traversing entitled as you see in the headline slot above: “Brilliant Songs.”

I’ll aim for monthly, may slack from or increase that, who knows? (I’m old, and inclined to chafe at schedules…)

What we’ll do is give the song a You Tube play, present, admire and explore the lyrics for a bit (may probe some pure instrumentals as well), draw what we can from them and see where the whole enterprise takes us.

Yes, I’l...

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