Category Archives: Life

If it’s not about classical music, ballet or the violin, you’ll find it here.

New to 2017: Classical Girl Giving

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“Help save the world” sounds like a rather ambitious 2017 New Year’s resolution, so I won’t call it that. But there is this new thing rising in me that I feel compelled to share.

It all started last spring. With my son turning seventeen, and a trio of Really Challenging Years behind us, something in me began to relax, or maybe wake up, to the fact that this world of ours comes with a host of Really Big Problems to try and help solve. Or maybe my daily mindfulness meditation practice starting yielding its own results. Point being: I heard the whisper of a call.

Now, I will argue that devoting oneself to passive tasks such as writing about the arts is not completely off the mark in the department of “helping to save the world” and/or make it a better place. If everyone spent their time immersed in work they found relevant, nourishing, challenging, important, I’m willing to bet we’d all live on a more peaceful planet.

That said. You tell people you served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, and it will produce a different reaction from when you tell them you’re a blogger who devotes big chunks of your day to waxing lyrically about the performing arts—preferably the fuddy-duddy classical stuff from the 19th and early 20th century.

Did I tell you I served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa?

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But that was another life entirely. Decades ago. Writing novels and raising a family claimed that space in my heart, it would seem. Until one day last May, after a Diablo Ballet performance, when I was talking with the company’s artistic director, Lauren Jonas. Art has a way of clearing out my inner clutter to begin with, and it had been a delightful, artful program. Lauren was telling me about a new extension of their PEEK* outreach program. This endeavor, funded by a California Arts Council grant, brought Lauren and PEEK’s associate director, former company dancer Edward Stegge, into Juvenile Hall, where they presented movement classes to at-risk incarcerated 15-to-17 year-old girls as part of their in-house Court School Program.

Diablo Ballet had been one of only eight organizations receiving awards for this highly competitive and limited-funds program, called JUMP StArts*. Lauren told me she’d been thrilled. “When I co-founded Diablo Ballet, back in 1993,” she said, “something like this had always been a part of the plan, the dream.”

Lauren shared a few details about the program, that had begun in mid-July the previous year. Once inside the facility, she and Eddie were screened and fingerprinted, given a list of things they could and could not do. They’d been told what colors they should not wear, questions they could not ask. They had to be accompanied by guards and were warned that some of the girls might have difficulty expressing themselves, and/or might start fights.

And then the once-weekly program started. Not dance classes or lectures, so much as movement creation exercises, discussions that taught the teen girls about themselves, their bodies, the self-esteem within them Lauren believed could be coaxed out, and a healthier self-expression. After just one session, Lauren and Eddie knew they had found something extraordinary. Some weeks they brought a musician along for live music, like Bolivian guitarist Gabriel Navia, which the girls loved. Sometimes they brought other dancers, like company member Amanda Farris, whom the girls had seen on the cover of the Diablo Ballet magazine. Here she was now, beautiful, famous, and so warm, so accessible! Venezuelan company member Rosselyn Ramirez was another great hit with the dancers. During one movement exercise, she assured a particularly difficult girl that the way she was doing the movement was perfect. The girl clasped her hands together and turned to her neighbor. “Did you hear that?” she said in a hushed, awed voice. “She said I was perfect.” Which, when Lauren recounted this to me, made my throat squeeze up.

 

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(*PEEK = Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids)
(*JUMP StArts = Juveniles Utilizing Massive Potential Starting with Arts)

The program ran from July to February. Lauren had already begun searching for additional grants in the hope of keeping the program annual (which they received – yay! – and this second year’s program continues through Feb/early March 2017). She and Eddy agreed that it had been one of the most rewarding experiences they’d ever had.

Her own quiet excitement, enthusiasm, deep commitment, was like a big gong within me. It was a real I want to join the Peace Corps moment, like I’d had at age twenty. It all came rushing back to me, the desire to be more, do more, to try and make a bigger difference in the world.

On my drive home from the performance, a reality check settled in. I’ve come to understand that I am not an extraverted do-er. I had a tough time in the Peace Corps, truth be told. My introverted side took over in a major way and, if I can be honest here, I didn’t do anything noble in the least. My greatest achievement was sticking out my two years and letting the host nationals observe on a daily basis that white, privileged Americans could be bumbling and stupid, make mistakes right and left, and not have any more answers than they did. Outside my teaching hours (English to high school students) I took comfort in writing, being alone. I spent hours journaling, reading, vicariously immersed in someone else’s misadventures, processing and chronicling my thoughts and feelings.

But there’s room in the world for both, right? The world needs the do-ers, the performing artists, activists, leaders and such. But it needs its observers, processors and scribes. Those who can help spread the word and offer support, financial or otherwise.

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Which is what brings me to my 2017 New Year’s resolution. I hereby announce the creation of Classical Girl Giving. I am still in the process of figuring out precisely what this entails, but my thought is to offer a modest quarterly donation to foundations to help support worthy ballet-based [or influenced] dance companies and projects. The inaugural recipient of the Classical Girl Giving project is, no surprise, Diablo Ballet, to help support their PEEK Extension program.

Beyond that? Yikes. I’m a little intimidated. Giving, as it turns out, is harder than just writing a check and handing it over. Where on earth do I start? Who’s behind the funding of grants that choreographers, artistic directors and arts administrators need in order to fund an outreach program? Which foundation deserves a shout-out over another? So much to learn. But Pema Chödrön, my favorite Buddhism/meditation/inspiration writer says it best: start where you are.

So. Here I am, bumbling and all, and let’s call this list a work in progress, shall we? What I’ve accrued here (with much help from choreographer/dancer/artistic director Robert Dekkers – thank you SO much!) are names of foundations that support dance companies and projects through grants. Some accept outside donations, others maybe not. Maybe I give straight to the dance company, maybe not. This list will likely change as I learn more; it might become multiple lists, one for readers who’d like to support the arts, one for dancers and choreographers looking for funding. Currently it favors California and the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you want to recommend a worthy foundation based elsewhere, please do. Are you a choreographer, artistic director, an arts nonprofit administrator who has a different foundation to suggest? I’d LOVE your help. You can either contact me privately or leave a message below in “comments.”

And without further ado, in alphabetical order…

10 great foundations that help champion and sustain dance and the arts

  1. California Arts Council (‘Artists in Schools’ Program and JUMP StArts Program)
  2. Dancers’ Group
  3. East Bay Fund for Artists
  4. The Fleishhacker Foundation
  5. The Rainin Foundation
  6. San Francisco Arts Commission
  7. San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts
  8. The Schubert Foundation
  9. The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation
  10. Zellerbach Family Foundation

The New Arrival

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OFF BALANCE is thrilled to announce the arrival of its sister novel in the Ballet Theatre Chronicles series. Welcome to the world, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT!

So, the baby got a lovely write-up in Kirkus Reviews, which summarizes OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT as “a lovely and engaging tale of sibling rivalry in the high-stakes dance world.” And remember my recent post on “Ballet Terms Made Simple?” Happy to report that Kirkus liked it, saying, “the glossary of dance terms at the end of the book proves a marvelous resource for the uninitiated,” and announcing, “this is a novel both for ballet lovers and those new to the art.” Cool! You can read the whole review HERE. (Editor’s note on Nov 15: woo hoo, an award! See below for the press release!)

I’m thinking this calls for a glass bubbly tonight. Care to join me? Come join me, as well, on my virtual book tour this week, where I’ll be interviewed or reviewed by the following bloggers, courtesy of Sage’s Blog Tours.

October 30th Freda Hansburg ~ INTERVIEW
October 31st Eskiemama Reads ~ INTERVIEW
November 1st Jessica and Gracie’s Tree ~ REVIEW
November 4th Comfy Reading ~ REVIEW
November 5th Reecaspieces ~ REVIEW

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Visit Sage’s Blog Tours to enter a giveaway for a print copy of OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT, matching tote bag and $10 Amazon gift card HERE. Or cut to the chase and buy your own copy right now, HERE.

And by the way, Happy Halloween, San Francisco style! Below is a very cool photo, not retouched or photoshopped, which I saw in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back, and now feels like the perfect time to use it. Spooky, elegant, and as I was in San Francisco last night, at the symphony (look for a blog on that later this week), it just felt right. The Civic Center was animated, beautifully lit, crowded, crazy, a little weird and unsettling — everything you could hope for in a pre-Halloween Saturday night in San Francisco. And if you’d like a soundtrack to your Halloween, remember to check out my Top 10 Halloween Classical Faves HERE.

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And that award I was talking about, from Kirkus Reviews?

Introducing OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT

Breaking news! Outside the Limelight has been named a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection for January 2017!

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Classical Girl Press is proud to announce the release of Outside the Limelight, Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles! You can find it in print and electronic formats HERE or distributed  through Ingram Book Company and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

WHAT THE NOVEL’S ABOUT…

Rising ballet star Dena Lindgren’s dream career is knocked off its axis when a puzzling onstage fall results in a crushing diagnosis: an acoustic neuroma, a benign brain tumor. Looming surgery and its long recovery period prompt the company’s artistic director, Anders Gunst, to shift his attention to an overshadowed company dancer: Dena’s older sister, Rebecca, with whom Anders once shared a special relationship.

Under the heady glow of Anders’ attention, Rebecca thrives, even as her recuperating sister, hobbled and unnoticed, languishes on the sidelines of a world that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca ultimately faces a painful choice: play by the artistic director’s rules and profit, or take shocking action to help her sister.

Exposing the glamorous onstage world of professional ballet, as well as its shadowed wings and dark underbelly, Outside the Limelight examines loyalty, beauty, artistic passion, and asks what might be worth losing in order to help the ones you love.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…

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“A lovely and engaging tale of sibling rivalry in the high-stakes dance world.”
— Kirkus Review (Starred review; read in its entirety HERE)

“Balanchine said dance is music made visible; Terez Mertes Rose’s Outside the Limelight is dance made readable. She reveals both the beauty of ballet and its pain in a compelling, deftly written novel that unfolds like a series of perfectly executed chaîné turns. Not to be missed!”
— Tasha Alexander, NYT bestselling author of A Terrible Beauty

Outside the Limelight sweeps us backstage, through the wings, past the dressing rooms, and into the lives of its dancers, where we see them up close, flawed and beautiful.”
— Adrienne Sharp, bestselling author of The True Memoirs of Little K and White Swan, Black Swan: Stories

“From the theater’s spotlights and shadows comes a nuanced drama of pain and beauty without one false note. I didn’t want it to end!”
— Kathryn Craft, award-winning author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy

Outside the Limelight pulls readers into the lives of two sisters, both professional ballerinas. Through their challenges, obstacles and triumphs we are reminded that life is a complicated yet wondrous journey, and that love–artistic, romantic and familial–is one of the strongest forces of all.”
— Zippora Karz, former soloist, New York City Ballet, author of The Sugarless Plum and Ballerina Dreams

“Readers will relish this fresh, enlightened insider’s look at two talented dancer sisters beset by professional rivalry & bound by love. This glowing novel is full of heart. Enchanting.”
–Sari Wilson, author of Girl Through Glass

“In Outside the Limelight, Terez Mertes Rose once again manages to perfectly capture the ethereal beauty of the ballet.  It’s a story as rich, heartbreaking and uplifting as any ballet masterwork, with characters who stay with you long after the final act.”
— Lauren E. Rico, author of Reverie and Rhapsody

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WHERE THE STORY CAME FROM…

A decade ago, in the spring of 2006, my sister was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma and two months later underwent a craniotomy and translab procedure to have it removed. I hadn’t started writing my Ballet Theatre Chronicles series yet, immersed as I was in a different, “sure thing” second novel. We were both to be disappointed by our respective end results. While the craniotomy and tumor removal was deemed a success, resulting facial paralysis on one side, brain fog, single-sided deafness and worsening tinnitus became my sister’s fate. My own “sure to be a winner” novel went over like a lead balloon with my agent. The silver lining: her belief in my writing and suggestion that I try my hand at something ballet-based, a subject I’d touched on in my first, unpublished novel. So as my sister struggled with the aftereffects of her acoustic neuroma, immersing herself in therapies and surgeries and strategies, I set to work on a new novel. But it would only be in February of 2011, after the first ballet novel didn’t sell, and my fourth novel didn’t sell, and my agent and I were once again musing about ballet in fiction for adults, its absence in the current marketplace, that I said to her, “what do you think about a ballet novel featuring two sisters, dancers in the same elite company, and one of them, the younger, more talented one, gets felled by an acoustic neuroma diagnosis and a host of post-op problems? Do you think something like that would interest readers?”

Black Swan had just come out. Something in the air seemed to be whispering ballet to the world at large. “I do,” she said without hesitation, and so Outside the Limelight was born.

At first things seemed great. The words flowed onto paper, and my sister’s warrior, can-do attitude toward her difficult recovery continued, through more surgeries, more therapies. But life can get the best of us and our best intentions. A month away from completion, my novel hit a snag. A competing ballet novel—about sisters, dancers in the same elite company, the younger, more talented one gets sidelined with injury (seriously, how was this possible for two books so similar to be produced in the same year after decades of nothing?)—came out, to strong acclaim. I was screwed. And so was my sister. Surgery after surgery had not eradicated her facial paralysis. Nor had her brain fog or tinnitus dissipated. Depression and anxiety swept over her like a tsunami, drowning her. My novel, hastily revised so it didn’t seem quite so copycat, stagnated in the hinterlands of the Big 5 Publishing world as my agent shopped it that fall and through the next twelve months. It was a year of staggering disappointment and discouragement, for both myself and my sister. And still life went on. Because it always does.

My sister couldn’t fight back, but I could. Time for Plan B. In May 2015, as an independent publisher (Classical Girl Press), I published my first ballet novel, Off Balance. A twelve-week revision of Book 2 turned into twelve months. As a result of everything, this 2016 revision is both the same story and a very different one. They say adversity reshapes you, and I concur. My own reshaping stuff aside, I watched my sister continue to struggle with her load. Nothing went away for her—not the brain fog, the shrill scream of permanent tinnitus, the facial paralysis, the resulting depression and anxiety. While I could do little to help my sister’s plight, I could pour my concern and love for her into my story. Powered by this, and a long year of backtracking, slowing down, rerouting and re-re-revising, the story has emerged all the stronger for it.

This is Outside the Limelight. This story is dedicated to my sister Maureen, with love, from all her sisters (below, L to R, clockwise: Orange Classical Girl, Annette, Kathleen, Laura, MarySue, with Maureen in the middle.) It’s a story dedicated to sisters everywhere. And to acoustic neuroma survivors. And to professional ballet dancer survivors. You are all warriors. Never forget it.

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PS: I want to publicly thank the Acoustic Neuroma Association and its wonderful discussion forum, a source of great comfort, peer information and support for my sister, and a community I quietly followed on the sidelines as I worked on my novel. Ten percent of the profits of Outside the Limelight will be donated to the Acoustic Neuroma Association. If you know of anyone who has suffered from an acoustic neuroma or just been diagnosed with one, direct them to the association and discussion forum HERE. And please allow me to gift them a copy of Outside the Limelight. It would be an honor, a privilege, and a chance to pay it forward. This goes for loved ones of an acoustic neuroma patient/survivor as well. Sometimes sitting on the sidelines, watching a loved one struggle, feels just as hard.

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Learning to fall: in dance and beyond

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My friend Anne Clermont’s debut novel, Learning to Fall, is coming out the first week of August. Set in the equestrian world of competitive show jumping, it chronicles one young woman’s search for healing, hope, and what it means to love. About two weeks ago I went to check on Amazon to see if it was available for pre-order (it is, HERE). I got sidetracked, as Amazon always hopes a customer will be, by another book, a collection of essays with the same title, something right up my eclectic, mindfulness-based spiritual alley. The author is Philip Simmons, and the subtitle of this guy’s Learning to Fall is “The Blessings of an Imperfect Life.” It looked great, and the reviews sounded great. There is a tragic backstory: Simmons, a writer and writing professor, was diagnosed in 1993 with ALS at age thirty-five. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is untreatable and always fatal. It’s a death sentence. He spent three years writing this book, well into his illness, and the end result is all the richer for it.

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Now, I’m sort of squeamish about the dying business, related books and/or movies, tender cancer stories, et cetera. I’m just such a suggestible, overly-sensitive soul. I read about sadness, I feel sad, melancholic. It’s also why I simply can’t tolerate gory or violent films. Their dark nature seeps right into me. But the instant I read a few lines of this book via Amazon’s “read a few lines of this book!” feature, I knew it would be a great fit for me. I’m utterly enamored, still, with Phillip Moffit’s Dancing with Life (which I highly recommend and talked about HERE) and this book sounded like it flowed from exactly the same profound-yet-pragmatic source. Simmons, however, had the added burden—or the grace, he might have argued—of working at pace with an imminent death. But what might have become maudlin, sentimental, rife with clichéd advice of “treasure each day” and “live in the now,” is instead startling, funny, pragmatic, insightful, well-written, enjoyable. I ordered the book that day, received it as we were packing for a family vacation, popped it right into the bag of vacation stuff accruing by the door, and began reading it the first morning at our vacation rental. Loved it. Perfect fit. What a powerful set of essays.

Learning to fall certainly has its place in the dance world. All ballet dancers have to learn to fall, and do it with grace. Coincidentally, the day before the book arrived, I was watching excerpts on YouTube of the ballet, Giselle, to glean technical details for my ballet fiction. I came upon a Paris Opera Ballet performance of Act II of Giselle. If you are not a ballet peep, you should know that the Paris Opera Ballet is one of the top five ballet companies in the world; some might argue the very top. Their corps de ballet is top notch. So, in the clip, there they are, this graceful, ethereal cluster of twenty-four Wilis, (maiden spirits from the Act II afterworld) in identical white tulle bell-shape tutus, in perfect formation and synchronicity, perfect arabesques, perfect bourrés. But then there’s a moment when one of the twenty four faces disappears. An instant later it’s back. I had to rewind and watch again, and watch it two more times before I believed my eyes. A Wili had fallen, during the simplest of steps, out of a bourré and into a delicate, low piqué arabesque. A mere step. She fell to the ground with a soft little thud and popped up an instant later, her expression as serene as anything and, really, it felt like a trick of the eye. That dancer knew how to fall. She knew how to get up fast and maintain [outward] serenity and confidence. I felt vicariously terrible for her. She must have been dying inside as she continued on. Or maybe—and now that I think of it, I imagine this is the case—she was such a professional that, having fallen before, she’d learned to give a little inner shrug afterward and say “Whoops. Okay. Moving on.” There’s no room for debilitating self-pity during a performance when you’re a professional ballet dancer. You have no choice but to get up, reposition, and keep the dance going.

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Beyond this, my brain naturally gravitates to the project I’ve been devoting most of my time to these days, final revisions on my second ballet novel, Outside the Limelight. Dena, one of the story’s two narrators, has an onstage fall in the first chapter that precipitates the diagnosis of an acoustic neuroma (a benign brain tumor lodged between her seventh and eighth cranial nerve — the facial nerve and the balance/hearing nerve respectively). The meat of Outside the Limelight and Dena’s part of the story is what transpires after the tumor’s removal. If you know anyone who’s had a craniotomy, or an acoustic neuroma removal, you will know, as they will, that the recuperation process after a craniotomy is slow, rife with dizziness, imbalance, brain fog, headaches and heartache. Dena’s “learning to fall” then becomes a metaphorical journey that many a recuperating patient can appreciate—you are not the strong, healthy person you’d been at your peak, and the struggle back to health becomes your life, with all its rocks and sharp disappointments and failure to achieve the things you’d once accomplished so effortlessly. Dena, a prodigiously talented dancer, falls off the artistic director’s radar; she falls out of favor with her friends (and vice versa) and falls into terrible despondency when the recuperation takes months and not weeks, augmented by facial paralysis that shows no sign of healing. Tough stuff for a professional ballet dancer to be grappling with. Especially one who’d learned to fly so high.

Back to Philip Simmons’ book. Here’s an excerpt, where he writes about how life is not a “problem” to be solved, unlike what the media would have you believe (10 Days to Slimmer Thighs! 5 Steps to Reviving Your Relationship and Your Life! 20 Tips For a Happier You!). Basicallyit’s a damned mystery. Crappy, don’t-make-sense things happen, like being struck down by ALS at age thirty-five when your work and marriage are thriving and you have two small children.

“At one time or another, each of us confronts an experience so powerful, bewildering, joyous, or terrifying, that all our efforts to see it as a “problem” are futile. Each of us is brought to the cliff’s edge. At such moments we can either back away in bitterness or confusion, or leap forward into mystery. And what does mystery ask of us? Only that we be in its presence, that we fully, consciously, hand ourselves over. That is all, and that is everything. We can participate in mystery only by letting go of solutions. This letting go is the first lesson of falling, and the hardest.”

Wow. Such great stuff for me to hear right now. It helps me to understand that challenging, icky stuff that clogs my life isn’t a “mistake” to fix and be done with, or “bad” stuff that I must work to get rid of as soon as possible. There’s merit to it all. And there’s less merit to clinging fiercely to the stuff I like—the comfortable, the familiar, the pain-free—than I’d realized.

Philip Simmons died in 2002, living long enough (thank goodness) to see his book make its way out into the world and powerfully affect its readers. What he left behind for all of us is a treasure of insight, wisdom and humanity. Here’s one last excerpt:

“Think of falling as a figure of speech. We fall on our faces, we fall for someone, we fall in love. In each of these falls, what do we fall away from? We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our precious selves. And what do we fall into? We fall into passion, into terror, into unreasoning joy. We fall into humility, into compassion, into emptiness, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling.”

Amen, brother. And thank you, for teaching me the beauty and wisdom tucked behind the falling.

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HERE is a link to Learning to Fall – The Blessings of an Imperfect Life. And check out Anne Clermont’s forthcoming novel, Learning to Fall HERE. And look for Outside the Limelight to hit bookstores in late October.

PS: HERE is a lovely 2002 article and a touching tribute to Philip Simmons by David Reich, former editor of UU Magazine.

San Francisco Symphony and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem

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On June 12th, forty-nine people were killed in a gay night club in Orlando, with fifty-three more wounded, in a terrorist attack/hate crime that shook the world. Hours later, James Conlon, guest conducting Sunday afternoon at the San Francisco Symphony, took the mic at the start of the performance. He told us they would be dedicating the performance of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem to the victims and families of the massacre. He spoke about Britten, a passionate and dedicated pacifist, and then asked the audience to stand and observe a moment of silence.

We did. There are few things more powerful than pure silence in a crowded concert hall.

Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem couldn’t have been more appropriate for the occasion. Britten dedicated this 1940 composition to the memory of his parents, both of whom he’d lost in the six years previous. It was composed, as well, on the eve of World War II (ironically, initially a commission by the Japanese). There are three movements, the “Lacrymosa,” “Dies irae” and “Requiem aeternam.” In twenty short minutes, we experience a mournful funeral dirge, a rapid, harsh “dance of death” and the wrenching, emotional release of the requiem. On a good day it would stir your soul. Yesterday, it reached out, grabbed my heart and squeezed and squeezed. Particularly during moments in the second movement when the percussion sounded like gun shots. And the intention of the piece was so pure—surely from Britten as he composed it; from Conlon at the podium and the musicians playing; from those of us in the audience listening and thinking about the massacre. It wasn’t just music we were listening to; it rose higher and became bigger than the notes. It transported all of us into the spirit of what had happened. The drama, the sorrow, the chaos, the loss. The final movement, more gentle now, and amid unspeakable loss is both grief and—is it too soon to call it healing?

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People all around me were wiping their eyes. The music subsided, coming to a quiet close. The silence at the end, once again, was absolute, as powerful as the music had been. Conlon left the stage before the trickles of applause (we’d been asked to hold our applause) could morph into full-on clapping. And that, too, seemed so powerful to me. As a guest conductor, he’d earned the right to bask in applause for a job beautifully done. He chose not to take it. The musicians, too. As they rose for the pause between pieces, breaking the spell, I saw a musician wipe his eye, one more poignant, powerful thing atop another.

The Britten was a difficult act to follow, as you might imagine. But life moves on, doesn’t it? And it was time for a young artist debut, Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat. It was great. It soothed and entertained. Lisiecki provided an elegant, nuanced touch, neither too heavy nor too fluff. I know all of this sounds a bit trite, but the Britten had slayed me and I could only sit there, a sodden heap, and allow Lisiecki and Mozart to gently lift me and my spirits back up. Lisiecki, at 21, seems to embody all that is young, fresh, hopeful, filled with promise. The Mozart did too. And the program’s concluder, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, was yet another ideal touch, performed with energy and warmth. It was as if the two latter selections were there to support the gravity of the Britten, and gently return us back to a cheerful, refreshed state.

There are different reactions to traumatic news and acts of terrible, senseless violence. Finger pointing, grandstanding. Retreating to defensive positions and firing verbal volleys. Citing the incident as evidence that [insert the cause/stance you despise] doesn’t work, and why we need [insert favorite cause]. But this musical response to the violence was so powerful and beautiful. It said, “we believe in art and its power to rise above ugliness, pettiness, violence. We don’t need  words to carry out a positive, resonating message.”

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How proud, how honored I feel, to be a part of a community and a city that cares deeply about classical music, diversity, tolerance, and art. One that will speak out, in the face of something so violent and hate-filled. People try to argue that classical music has lost its relevancy and is unnecessary in today’s culture. Oh, how far from true. And to Joshua Kosman, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle* that Thursday night’s efforts with the same program sounded “wan and inconsequential,” I’m here to tell you, Mr. Kosman. You should have been there Sunday afternoon.

Bravissimi, and heartfelt thanks, to James Conlon, Jan Lisiecki and the San Francisco Symphony musicians. Sunday’s performance was the kind of experience I’ll never forget.

PS: Some good reading: Lisa Houston for San Francisco Classical Voice, interviews Conlon, about music, its power, the Britten piece and Britten himself HERE. And here’s another article with interesting details about Conlon and Lisiecki both from Examiner.com

*I suppose I should link Kosman’s review, although to read his grousing now seems downright petty, never mind that he is an excellent reviewer and what he heard on Thursday was what he heard on Thursday. By Sunday, we were living in a different world. So, Google it yourself if you want to read something intelligent but negative. For me, I’d rather focus on everything that was good about Sunday’s performance, which is to say, everything.