Tucson Symphony Orchestra musical director George Hanson leads a rehearsal for the Tucson Pops last month. Hanson is stepping down from his position at the podium after 19 years.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Editor’s note: As Tucson Symphony Orchestra Music Director George Hanson winds down his 19-year tenure, we asked him to reflect on why he chose Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 to be the exclamation mark to his career here.

Are there words powerful enough to express how much you love your children?

What words could convey the enormity of the cosmos? Or the delicate beauty of a flower?

Poets have been searching for those words for centuries. Despite many beautiful attempts, words have always fallen short.

This, my friends, is why we have music.

Gustav Mahler titled his third symphony “What the Universe Told Me.” In this work, Mahler brings us in touch with things in a way no poet or wordsmith could ever communicate — things we feel and know to be real, but can never truly speak.

What does it feel like to lie down in a grassy meadow on a warm summer day, surrounded by mountains, gazing at the clouds as they shift from white to crimson? What sensation were you experiencing when you lost a loved one, or first touched the tiny hand of your child?

Gustav Mahler invites us into his world with his music. It’s a world where colors are more vivid, emotions more intense. Our feelings of joy carry us soaring above the earth; our sorrow is profound. We can see love; we can touch beauty.

As Mahler’s Third Symphony comes to an end, when we emerge from Mahler’s world, we return to our reality with a different and better view of our own lives. This is the very definition of great art. And this is why I have chosen Mahler’s Third Symphony as the final work I will conduct as music director of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

Every American city decides for itself what sort of cultural life it will have. I am grateful that Tucsonans choose to support the richness brought to us by a great symphony orchestra. Please treasure it always.

Thank you.