The Persistence of Memory

For La Jolla Symphony & Chorus’ 2018-2019 season, Music Director Steven Schick has chosen an encompassing theme entitled “Lineage: A Memory Project.” As Schick explains,

A critical component to living an ethical life is how we remember, how we create lineage. It answers important questions: Who are we? To what echoes of our history do we resonate and how do we memorialize them? And, most importantly, what do we need to do today so that, in the future, we will be remembered by someone who will recognize herself in her memories of us; who will examine her lineage through our lives and be grateful?

This concept guided Schick when programming the season’s concerts, as he sought to highlight linkages between seemingly disparate composers and styles. The inaugural concert, also titled “Lineage,” is a case in point, as it unites three composers widely separated by era, location, upbringing, native culture, and modality.

The first offering, “Lineage,” is by young Canadian composer Zosha di Castri. According to di Castri the piece was inspired by the memories her Italian immigrant grandparents shared with her as a little girl in Alberta, against which she contrasts the noises and rhythms of her contemporary life. Di Castri invites the listener to dive under the work’s modernist surface to discover the echoes of a vanished era; some effort is required to sift through the shifting textures and impermanent rhythms to reach memory’s deep core, but the rewards are great.

Like di Castri’s composition, Tan Dun’s innovative “Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra” evokes the past, in this case the composer’s childhood in rural China. Tan Dun considers the sound of water to be universal and fundamental, even primal, to the human experience; after all, the aqueous environment of the womb is the first sound we hear, and a connection to the Earth’s oceans and waterways is hardwired into mankind’s DNA. Accompanying the sounds of water, as played by three featured percussionists, are the metallic sounds of spiritual rituals and the suggestion of chants conveyed by voice-like effects in the orchestra. All combine to portray a culture that is at once ancient and contemporary, but always rooted in immutable truths.

Composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Igor Stravinsky’s beloved “Petrushka” draws upon memories of Stravinsky’s youth, in particular the Shrovetide Fairs popular in rural Russia and the Ukraine. The music tells the story of three puppets whose tangled love affairs and jealousies result in tragedy. Mixed with this narrative are the sounds of festival barkers and fair-goers and traces of Russian folk melodies, all melded together in a style that pointed the way for composers who followed.

Taken together, these three pieces make a strong case that music in all its forms is a most effective means for recognizing and celebrating our diverse lineages.

Watch Lineage – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

Feeling the Heat: The Biology of Ocean Warming

The effects of climate change on fauna and flora across the globe are more and more evident – the Pika has changed its range, and may disappear, sea stars have been visited by a withering collapse in population, insects from bark beetles to mosquitoes are inhabiting new territories, bringing disease to humans and destruction to forests. And close to home, the ocean temperature recently hit the highest temperature ever recorded.

As our changing climate provides a natural laboratory for examining how organisms evolve adaptations to environmental extremes, Scripps’ Oceanography’s Ron Burton asks: can evolution keep up with rapid climate change or are most species likely to go extinct as temperatures rise?

Ron shares about the cutting-edge genetic tools he uses to understand how populations of tidepool animals cope with rapid temperature changes and how evolution has shaped those responses across the geographic range of each species.

Watch Feeling the Heat: The Biology of Ocean Warming

Combatting the Scourge

Malaria has been described as “the perennial scourge of mankind,” with over 200 million cases reported annually resulting in up to 750,000 deaths and incalculable misery. The disease is most common in the tropical and subtropical regions that surround the equator, including Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia, but it may be found in any region where climatic conditions favor the growth and spread of the mosquito-borne parasite.

On-going global eradication efforts employing pesticides have been successful in southern Europe and the southern United States, but less so elsewhere. In recent years genomics has taken center stage in malaria research with the sequencing of both the malarial parasite and the human genome. One experimental application of this research is the production of genetically-modified mosquitoes that do not transmit malaria. Another new and promising technique is the gene drive, which combats malaria by introducing disruptive genes into wild populations of mosquitoes that interfere with the development of females.

The use of such radical measures unavoidably prompts serious bioethical concerns, including the possibilities of unforeseen mutations and broader ecological impacts. Ethicists also question whether we have the right to potentially eliminate a species. In her self-described role as a “moral philosopher” Laurie Zoloth (University of Chicago) has written and lectured extensively about these issues, arguing that:

In the 1960s, the world agreed that smallpox was a species worth eliminating. We should feel the same way about A. gambiae. And isn’t deploying a gene drive that specifically targets the mosquito species that carries malaria far better than using chemical sprays, such as pyrethroids, organochlorines and DDT (still used in some countries) that indiscriminately target any insect?

Though malaria and other insect-borne diseases have historically been associated with Third World poverty, Zoloth notes these maladies are no longer the exclusive province of underdeveloped tropical countries. As climate change results in greater and more widespread extremes of temperature, rainfall, and humidity, the range of mosquitoes is likely to increase, and with them the diseases they transmit including malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and Zika. While acknowledging the dangers of meddling with the genetic status quo, Zoloth maintains that preoccupation with those risks is a luxury afforded only to those who are not at risk of losing a loved one to wrenching fevers and severe dehydration.

Zoloth concludes that in that light, gene drives and other genomic-based eradication methods represent the most moral and ethical choice available to scientists.

Watch May We Make the World?: Religious and Ethical Questions with Dr. Laurie Zoloth – Burke Lectureship

Tool Use, Technology and the Evolution of the Human Mind

We “behaviorally modern humans” likely emerged more than 100,000 years ago in Africa, spread across that continent and eventually all over the planet, effectively replacing all closely related potentially competitive species. Among many possible explanations, was the co-evolution of the human mind with tool use and technology – ranging all the way from simple stone tools millions of years ago, to computers today.

Speakers in this series addresses this important process at all levels, from molecules to brain imaging, beginning with the potential link between early stone tool use and the parallel expansion of the human brain, to the control of fire and the invention of projectile weapons, all the way through reading and writing to current day technologies such as computers and 3D reality–perhaps with a look to the potential future of the human mind.

Browse more programs in CARTA: Impact of Tool Use and Technology on the Evolution of the Human Mind

Looking Toward 2020 with Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown

Willie Brown has spent his life in public service. He served over 30 years in the California State Assembly – 15 of those years as Speaker – before becoming the first African American mayor of San Francisco. For the past 10 years, he’s been writing a column for the San Francisco Chronicle on politics, movies, art, and anything else on his mind. When he took the podium at the Goldman School of Public Policy recently, he touched on lessons from all those experiences. But, his main focus was the 2018 midterms and the upcoming general election.

Brown began by looking back to 2016, explaining why he predicted Donald Trump would win the presidency. Brown, a lifelong Democrat and friend of Hillary Clinton, says Clinton could have been one of the best presidents in history. But, Brown knew that Trump had the skill and ability to connect with voters in a way Clinton could not. Brown also traces Clinton’s loss across several election cycles, when Democrats lost the House and the Senate during the Obama years.

Trump’s victory however, could be the key to the Democratic Party’s recovery, Brown says. He says Trump has failed to build a coalition beyond his core supporters that voted him into office. That helped Democrats win in states like Michigan and Wisconsin in 2018, where Clinton lost in 2016. Brown also credits Nancy Pelosi with organizing the party to help take back the House. But, in order to keep that momentum going and defeat President Trump in 2020, Brown says Democrats have to identify a strong candidate with the same ability to move voters. He says there are three strong options from California, and one in particular he hopes to see on the ballot.

Watch The Honorable Willie Brown on the 2018 Midterms and Strategy for 2020