Friday, November 10, 2006

Symmetric surprises

A year ago today I was on the train through Germany and down to Luzern, Switzerland. There were so many surprises on that trip - the first of my longer trips while I was traveling alone in Europe. The train ride was unexpectedly long, resulting in my arriving late in the evening. As I stumbled through the unfamiliar streets to find the place I planned to stay, I found another small hotel that ultimately ended up being an incredible find. When I opened my doors to the breath-taking view of Mount Pilatus on the horizon the next morning, I knew I had found heaven on earth.

Today is not only the 1st anniversary of my discovery of the Alps and the wonderful heritage of this region of the world, it is the 96th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's 1910 debut as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. As I listened to the historical retrospective on WGUC this morning, I was not surprised to hear that Mahler chose to break the boundaries of conventionality of the NY Philharmonic by conducting a Bach piece from the piano (evidently something never done before in this setting). Mahler later wrote to a colleague back in Austria about how stunned the audience was and how this style added so much in new perspective to the performance.

The additional symmetry of these days is that Diane and I will attend the Cincinnati Symphony's performance of the Mahler Symphony #9 tomorrow night. This symphony is considered his fairwell to life and, in fact, he never heard it performed before his death in 1911. The 9th was composed, as most of Mahler's works, in his Austrian mountain retreat - a place where he could find solitude and reflection to give him the creative energy to engage with a public that for the most part did not understand him during his lifetime. Pavo Jarvi, who will conduct the 9th, said of this masterpiece that it explores the depths of human yearning for meaning, a kind of going to the edge of human experience. This Cincinnati Symphony concert is open and free of charge to Iraq War veterans and their families.

Mahler's life reflects both the blessing and burden of genius. He was beloved by some but dismissed by others. His days teetered back and forth between intense solitude and social engagement. His role in closing the Romantic era of music and ushering in true 20th century forms unquestionably qualify him as one of history's greatest leaders in music. Mahler's legacy also raises the question of how creativity and leadership balance in life's experience.

I heard a speaker at the International Leadership Association just last week (Dean Keith Simonton, author of Creativity in Science, Change, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist) who proposed that there are common constructs between creativity and leadership (i.e. both are based on achieving great impact), but that they are rarely both found in the same individuals. Simonton's conclusion still rests uncomfortably in my mind. Are creativity and leadership focused on achieving similar purposes yet unlikely companions in our lives?

Note (or question) to self - In an age where creativity and innovation are so important to discovering conditions necessary for the earth and its inhabitants to thrive, how can artistic, leadership, and other genius be fostered for the good of all?

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