Sunday afternoon made for an easy drive into downtown. We arrived early enough to settle in before the concert. At the beginning of the concert, one of the violists gave a testimonial to Peter Guroff after his passing away earlier this week. The Strauss Death and Transformation as well as Brahms Concerto No. 1 were played with an empty chair in the viola section for Peter. Listening to the transparent themes with harp, oboe, flute, violin my eyes were drawn to the flowers sitting in his chair. As the piece moved through fanfares, the changing themes, one can only imagine a life of promise, times of greatness, struggle, success, and the approach of the end of life, quiet and dignified. Last October, the PSO dedicated a concert to longtime board member Bill Boyd who had passed away earlier that year. And then we celebrated a life of dedication and service, of a person engaged with everything and everyone around him. And so it was with Peter, someone who was not just a violist, but someone that related, shared in joy, even while knowing that his body was fighting a cancer.
For the past 8 months, I’ve had the privilege and burden of being alongside a friend with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). And another friend whose father was recently diagnosed with leukemia. And as they (and other friends in the past) have faced this (even in our youth) the reactions go in so many ways. The shock with being confronted with cancer when young. The outward strength and show of joy and confidence. The fear of a too short future. Sometimes resignation. Both gladness and embarrassment of the attention of loved ones giving their support. Anger at those who shy away from hard to take news and disappear, unsure how to face these reminders of their own mortality. And as much as we like the stories of those who face illness and life changing events with courage and bravery, it does us all a disservice to ignore the hardship that accompanies it. How do you prepare yourself for something like that?
And I wonder if that is part of what the arts are for, to demonstrate something about what it is to be human and alive beyond the words. The struggle, joy, suffering and release of Strauss. The wonder and awe of Ax playing Brahms. I don’t mean to say that music, art and literature actually prepare you for facing the end of life, but that to experience the arts stretches the realm of what is experienced, and that something that could be otherwise a "fear that would take the heart of me" into something that is faced and met, and if not welcomed, with acceptance that it is a part of life.