Category Archives: UC San Diego

The Intimate and the Cosmic

La Jolla Symphony and Chorus’ December 2019 concert is comprised of three pieces that seem disparate at first glance: the premiere of Celeste Oram’s “a loose affiliation of alleluias,” Robert Schumann’s “Violin Concerto in D Minor,” and John Adams’ “Harmonium.” As LJS&C’s Music Director and Conductor Steven Schick points out, however different these compositions are stylistically – and they are very much so – they nevertheless share key thematic interests. Chief among these is an examination of how and where mystical introspection intersects with shared public experience.

Nee Commission recipient Celeste Oram’s piece blends the orchestra with improvising violin soloist Keir GoGwilt and three offstage singers dubbed “Teen Angels” in an inventive mélange of Renaissance-derived styles, popular song, postmodern modalities and other sources. “a loose affiliation…” also employs elements of theatre. What emerges is a contemplative work that simultaneously embraces both the intimate and the cosmic.

This examination of the mystical and metaphysical continues (albeit in a different form) in Robert Schumann’s concerto. Schumann’s music often expresses his concern with spirituality and how one reconciles its demands with mundane daily life, something with which the composer himself struggled. His approach to this question became increasingly elliptical as his career progressed; indeed, the “Violin Concerto in D Minor” has been dubbed “enigmatic” and “mysterious.” Seemingly conventional in style, the concerto leads the listener through intricate layers of sound meant to engage the curious mind in spiritual inquiry while appealing to more casual listeners. Virtuoso violinist Keir GoGwilt returns to the stage as the featured soloist.

Upon the 1981 premiere of John Adams’ choral work “Harmonium” one prescient critic noted that “a major new talent has arrived.” Like Oram’s piece this work experiments with form by mixing styles, and like Schumann’s concerto it expresses a concern with spirituality, in this case by setting poems by John Donne and Emily Dickinson to music. In each section Adams’ subtle modulations gradually gather energy, resulting in near-celebratory climaxes; in the final movement, based on Dickinson’s sensual “Wild Nights,” following this exultation the music subsides into a long, quiet coda as it fades from our hearing. In its original usage this piece’s title, derived via French from the Latin “harmonia,” simply means “harmony,” and the composer uses constantly shifting tonal patterns to evoke what he called “always moving forward over vast stretches of imaginary terrain.” It’s not too great a leap to dub this a metaphysical journey, or to apply that term to the concert selections as a whole.

Watch — Oram, Schumann, Adams – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

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Pivotal Events

In the early hours of April 20, 1989, 28-year-old jogger Trisha Meili was assaulted and left for dead in Central Park. The ensuing media frenzy instigated a public outcry for swift justice. Within days of the attack five African-American teenagers implicated themselves, after hours of psychological pressure and aggressive interrogation. The teens were tried as adults and convicted despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts connecting them to the victim. The convictions were vacated in 2002 after incarcerated serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime and DNA tests confirmed his guilt. The men subsequently filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, the police officers, and the prosecutors involved in their case. A settlement was reached in 2014 for $41 million.

The story of the Central Park Five has remained in the public consciousness, in part due to acclaimed documentaries on the subject and recent reminders of Donald Trump’s role in fanning public hysteria, and is an ideal subject for composer Anthony Davis. Davis has created several operas that address social and political issues in both a historical and contemporary context, with particular focus on events and figures in American history involving issues of race and social justice.

Davis’ first opera, “X,” examined the struggle of Malcolm X to redefine his identity in accordance with his spiritual beliefs. Subsequent operas included such diverse topics as the kidnapping of Patty Hearst (“Tania”), the 1870s trial of Standing Bear (“Wakonda’s Dream”), a rebellion aboard a slave ship and the trial that followed (“Amistad”), and the story of Adam’s apocryphal first wife as emblematic of the eternal conflict between the sexes (“Lilith”). Given his concern with America’s continuing racial and political struggles, his latest opera, “The Central Park Five,” is of a piece with Davis’ earlier works.

In conversation with UC San Diego Professor Emeritus Cecil Lytle, Davis recounts the origins of the opera, the challenges of writing for an ensemble, the use of jazz idioms in his work, his preference for smaller-scale intimate dramas, and the responsibilities an artist undertakes when dealing with historical events. He stresses that there will always be a place for socially-aware works that confront controversies head-on, and in this vein mentions his plan to create an opera focusing on the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (depicted in the first episode of HBO’s “Watchmen” series). As Davis noted in an earlier interview, “These pivotal events in our history offer windows into understanding who we are today and how we arrived at our present situation. The slogan, “Black Lives Matter” is not only an important political statement but it is also the central focus of my work as an artist and composer.”

Watch — The Central Park Five with Anthony Davis

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A Moral Imperative

Since its inception in 1985 the Eugene M. Burke Lectureship on Religion and Society at UC San Diego has sponsored more than 70 public lectures in which scholars, theologians, and religious practitioners of various faiths address critical issues in the relationship between religion and society.

One such pressing issue is immigration. The first two decades of the 21st century have seen a sharp rise in the number of global refugees as individuals and families flee war, famine, disease, ethic and political strife, economic hardship, natural disasters, and the effects of climate change. As the number of asylum seekers and other immigrants grows, so too do calls in host countries to deny them entry. Here in the United States both legal and undocumented immigrants face an increasingly hostile political climate. In this installment of the Burke Lectureship two prominent religious leaders, Bishop Robert McElroy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and Imam Taha Hassane of the Islamic Center of San Diego, discuss their respective faiths’ views on immigration while seeking to forge a common path forward.

Both men assert that immigration poses a moral challenge as well as a legal problem, citing the emphasis in both Christianity and Islam on fellowship and fair treatment of strangers. Imam Hassane stresses the importance of hospitality in Islamic tradition, while Bishop McElroy outlines the Catholic Church’s doctrines concerning social justice, especially as they pertain to the poor and the underprivileged. In both instances the Imam and the Bishop believe that giving aid to immigrants is a moral imperative that transcends political dogma. However, neither man is naïve; both understand the difficulties of preaching and implementing a faith-mandated moral course in the face of widespread popular opposition fueled by demagoguery.

How then to proceed? As Imam Hassane points out, the challenge is not merely to change men’s minds, but their hearts. To do less is to fail the moral test. Both the Imam and the Bishop believe that open, honest dialogue is key, not merely with fellow believers but those advocating opposing views, as well as with those in power who are in a position to effect change. Also vital to the effort are public expressions of solidarity with immigrants in the form of peaceful demonstrations, petition drives, and questioning of public officials and policies. The two religious leaders point out that a faith that is expressed only in words and not deeds is a thin faith at best.

Watch — The Bishop and the Imam: A Conversation on Immigration – Burke Lectureship on Religion and Society

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Wisdom Combats Loneliness

Loneliness and social isolation have become silent killers and studies have shown that they’re as dangerous to our health as smoking and obesity. But what can be done? “Behavioral epidemics need behavioral medicines,” says Dilip Jeste, MD, a geriatric neuropsychiatrist who specializes in successful aging.

Jeste suggests harnessing wisdom as a vaccine – a trait that can be honed over the lifespan. Jeste’s research demonstrates a strong correlation between creating a balance of self-reflection, compassion, emotional regulation, accepting diversity, and spirituality with lowered feelings of loneliness and isolation. Hear more about the science of wisdom during this insightful talk from the Stein Institute for Research on Aging.

Please visit https://www.uctv.tv/stein for more programs on healthy aging.

Watch — The Modern Epidemic of Loneliness: Using Wisdom as Behavioral Vaccine with Dilip Jeste – Research on Aging

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E-Cigarettes: What We Know, What We Need to Learn

In 2014 with vaping newly on the rise, Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander joined us to talk about the potential health risks.

Five years later, we revisit the topic to see how the research is bearing out how e-cigarettes and their usage has evolved. Dr. Alexander shares a physician’s view of the specific dangers of vaping.

For more programs bringing the public and scientists together to explore how science can best serve society, watch Exploring Ethics https://uctv.tv/exploring-ethics/

Watch — How Bad Are E-cigarettes? – Exploring Ethics

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