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Culture Report: Rafael Payare Kicks Things Off With Mahler

Rafael Payare
Rafael Payare conducts the symphony. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony

“It’s such an optimistic and life-affirming piece, and it’s very close to my heart,” said Rafael Payare, the new director of the San Diego Symphony, about Austrian composer Gutsav Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Payare officially takes over the role this weekend, and he chose to pair the Mahler with what he describes as “inventive” electronic-infused work by contemporary California composer Mason Bates.

Beyond the listening experience, Mahler’s 5th has lesser-known links to Alma Mahler, his only wife of just nine years.

“She was artistic and also brilliant and vivacious and beautiful,” said Nuvi Mehta, the symphony’s pre-concert lecturer and concert commentator. “She met Mahler and they had a very whirlwind courtship.” Born Alma Schindler, she married Mahler, 20 years her senior, in 1902.

Nuvi Mehta
Nuvi Mehta gives a pre-show lecture. / Photo by David Hartig

Mahler famously forbade the then-music student and composer in her own right from writing her own works.

“He kind of made it clear to her that there really can be only one artist in a functioning family, and that she would have to give up her idea of composing,” said Mehta.

This gem from her 1964 obituary [1] in the New York Times illustrates Alma Mahler’s ambition: “She noted that she had once confided to her first husband, Mahler, that what she really loved in a man were his achievements. ‘The greater the achievements,’ she told the great German composer, ‘the more I love him.’” With that fiery will, it’s perplexing that she would willingly squander her own composing career.

Mehta said that Mahler began composing his 5th Symphony slightly before meeting Alma, and then finished in the early stages of their volatile romance; Payare said that the lilting, emotive fourth movement is “a beautiful love letter to his new wife.”

Mahler had also suffered a serious stroke just before composing the 5th, said Payare.

“So it’s as if Mahler is embracing life and everything about it; despite going through quite a dark and complex journey it ends with one of the most optimistic ever written,” Payare said.

And the final movement is a playful allegro with woodwinds at the forefront. It feels triumphant but full of light, contrasting the powerful brass-heavy earlier movements but still never lacking Mahler’s usual brutish explosiveness, particularly in its final fanfare.

“The way he writes,” Mehta said, in awe. “Just cries, outcries and drama. And it’s very difficult music. All the instruments in the orchestra have really difficult roles to play.”

Rafael Payare
Rafael Payare conducts the symphony. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony

Payare has conducted the symphony several times since his appointment, but this weekend’s performances mark his official start as director. “Mahler’s 5th showcases all the sections of the orchestra in a fantastic and virtuosic way. It’s almost like a new journey, or new beginning — so I see it as a great piece to start this new journey together,” Payare said.

Performances [2]take place this weekend, and Mehta’s pre-show lectures take place 45 minutes before each performance. Hot tip: Guests can sit anywhere in the audience during the lecture!

TwitchCon 2019 Report: The Bob Ross Paint-Along

The sold-out TwitchCon brought scores of streamers, fans and vendors to town this weekend. No attendance figures are posted yet, but it was hopping.

The Twitch user convention introduced the streaming platform [3]’s slightly updated look (a brighter purple, additional splashes of color), held several contests with major prizes (including a recording contract), offered tabletop games, karaoke and the chance to scope brand new products, tech, features and games.

There was also a full slate of panels, live streams, charity platforms like Tiltify, the official concert including Blink-182 (with a last-minute cancelation from Lil Nas X) and lots of unofficial parties. A lot of cosplay, too, but mostly just purple accessories. Besides, if I barely recognized any of the characters at Comic-Con, TwitchCon was next-level obscurity.

Except for Bob Ross.

Limited to just 200 TwitchCon attendees, the Bob Ross Paint Along was a very official-feeling sample of a wildly popular Twitch format. Streamers act as a Bob Ross-style painting instructor, walking viewers through creating a painting. There was a lot of Ross worship. Was it the most wholesome thing the internet has given us in recent years? Maybe.

The Bob Ross Paint Along at TwitchCon 2019 at the San Diego Convention Center / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

At TwitchCon, rows of conference tables were equipped with small easels, paper towels, a painting knife, brush and several dots of paint. Faye Fletcher, our host, had a kind voice, soothing and southern. I watched (and live tweeted [4]) while she sweetly guided those 200 fledgling painters through creating a pretty twilight mountain scene in an hour. The attendees cheered along, with rousing shouts and called-out Bob Ross-isms.

“I’m gonna show you the happy trees,” Fletcher said. “And not just one, but two. Because … ” she trailed off, dramatically. ” Everybody needs a friend,” finished someone from the audience.

TwitchCon returns to San Diego in September 2020 [5].

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