Conductor Alondra de la Parra: “I am an artist, what I do best is conducting orchestras and I love it, but it’s not the only thing I am, it doesn’t define me”.
The French newspaper Le Monde says that thanks to Alondra de la Parra, classical music has arrived in the 21st century. But her figure is just one more piece in the perfect gear that is the orchestra. “For me, a conductor must be an artist who has the ability to direct, to command an orchestra, and that, of course, requires profound musical knowledge and technical skills, to be able to operate this marvellous instrument that is the orchestra. But in my opinion he is an artist, an artist who builds stories, who tells, who describes places, who describes feelings and situations and who expresses himself through this beautiful system of sound colours that is the orchestra”. We all have in our minds the figure of the conductor as a man, an older gentleman, usually European. But Alondra has broken all those canons: she is a woman and a Latin American, and she has carved out a niche for herself, because anyone can be a conductor. “The important thing is imagination, preparation, communication and what he or she has to say as an artist. He or she can be a man or a woman and of any nationality. We are all unique beings and we come with some information since the childhood and also from what we learn from our parents, from our teachers, from what we live. And that makes us unique. The conductor is a human being and it is that collection of characteristics that makes him or her unique. I think that for many years we have focused on the figure of the conductor as a character and with a series of expectations of how he has to be, how he has to look, how he has to behave… And I think it’s time to break those ideas, because at the end of the day that’s not what connects with music, that’s not what he expresses. What you expect is the artist, the child that is inside that conductor and his ability to express himself.”
From a very young age she was fortunate that her parents took her to many concerts of all kinds of music: opera, symphonic music, popular music. “In Mexico we have the rancheras, we listen to merengue, cumbia, son, salsa…. And I listened to everything, I was exposed to all kinds of music, to son yucateco, son veracruzano and also to the whole tradition of Yucatecan songs, because my family, my aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, they all sang, they sang in front of the piano, with the guitar, etcetera. So, for me, music has always been a part of life and, having listened to orchestras and having been to many concerts, I began to fall in love with the symphonic repertoire. I became fascinated by orchestral music at a very young age. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I started as a professional musician and that’s when I became interested in symphonic music. And so a vocation began to emerge for a profession she had not even thought about, but which was the right one for her. “It was my father who said to me, ‘Why don’t you become a conductor?’ And it was something I hadn’t even thought about, but when he explained to me that I had to have a good ear, that I had to organise everything, think and work on the music. It’s difficult, yes, but I can imagine myself doing it”.
And, although she had no references, no previous visualisation of someone like her who had done it, she threw herself into this life project. She says that what she enjoys most about her work are the rehearsals. “Discovering things together, with the orchestra. I listen to new things, I suggest them, they react. All the human work, the fact that it is totally alive. The orchestra is alive and has feelings, has concerns, has different personalities, personality clashes, empathy and resilience. Everything that we observe in human behaviour is seen in the orchestra in a matter of seconds, and I enjoy that enormously”. She is much more than a conductor. The fact that she enjoys what she does is evident, she puts passion, dedication and all her expressiveness into everything she does. Because for her, the important thing about conducting is to tell a story. “The technical part, the exact part, the mathematical part of being a musician is a part that I love and that I enjoy. Doing scales or moving your fingers and making it all come out on the piano, doing exercises, working on the rhythm,…. That’s how you spend a large amount of your time. But there comes a moment where you have to go beyond that and let go and you can find freedom. That’s how I see my job with this level of orchestras, not to just lay bricks on top of each other, but to decorate, to think architecturally, in a much higher aesthetic than construction. If you’re going to make a building as an architect you have to know how to build and you have to know how to lay with the ground, but I’m interested in the step when it’s already done and you say ‘now what do we do? now what are we going to say?”
The Impossible Orchestra
She is an artist who has conducted more than 100 orchestras in 22 countries, but that’s not everything what she does, it doesn’t define her. “I am an artist who conducts orchestras, it’s what I do best, conducting orchestras, my forte is conducting, it’s what I have done most and I love it, but it’s not the only thing I am, it doesn’t define me”. She is interested in connecting with other disciplines and generating new works of art. That’s why she has different artistic projects underway, such as ‘The Impossible Orchestra’. She brought together renowned musicians, among them the world-famous Mexican-born tenor Rolando Villazón, who can also be seen playing percussion; the double bassist Edicson Ruiz, violinists Veronika Eberle, Guy Braunstein and Midori Goto; the cellists Nicolas Altstaedt and Jan Vogler; the oboist Albrecht Mayer; the percussionist Christoph Sietzen and the trumpeter Sarah Willis.
Sitting at the piano, an unusual position for the conductor, Alondra de la Parra herself is a visual leitmotif of the video. Another one is Mexican dancer Elisa Carrillo Cabrera of the Berlin State Ballet, who dances to a choreography by British artist Christopher Wheeldon. “If music were human, she would be Elisa”. “Last year when the pandemic hit, I felt very helpless because all the concerts were cancelled, all the activity, you are locked up with your children and with no direction, no perspective. And at the same time, you realize that the world is suffering because of the pandemic, (…) there are also very important issues that already had me very distressed, like violence against women and children in my country, there is really terrible violence. So, well, at that time what I didn’t have was concerts, I didn’t have any activity, but what I did have was time. And in the absence of many things, the presence of others appeared. And I started to connect with soloists and musicians that I know, recognised musicians, and ask them if they wanted to be part of the project to raise awareness of this issue and raise funds to help institutions that support people who are victims of violence, especially women and children. And, to my surprise, the stars of classical music joined in and from there the impossible orchestra was born, because we were never able to get together, we did everything from a distance. And also because it is an orchestra that could never exist. It is an orchestra of soloists that only the pandemic gave us the opportunity to have.
The Silence of Sound
Another project she has, more for the future, has a spectacular staging. It is ‘The Silence of Sound’. “It’s a creation I’ve been working on for the last six years with Gabriela Muñoz, a Mexican clown. It is the story of a single character who, thanks to the orchestra, discovers different places and instruments, but these instruments and sounds also become experiences, characters, who take her on this adventure. The idea is a work that can reach all audiences and serve as an introduction to the symphonic repertoire of the orchestra, the repertoire I love. There are no words, the only narrator is the music”.
She is also a promoter of educational projects to promote the training of children and young people in a context of music and social inclusion. “I believe that all of us who enjoy having a professional artistic career and making a living from it, must always be looking towards the next generations and opening up opportunities to other younger people. In fact, this year she will inaugurate a festival in the Riviera Maya, the PAAX GNP Festival, “which will be annual, and there we are going to have a very beautiful project called ‘Armonía Social’, in which we will work with children from all over the Riviera Maya region, in orchestras and workshops, to bring them musical education of the highest level to this territory. And I am also working on the project of a conducting academy. Education always goes hand in hand with everything I do and I love to meet with young people. It’s very important to help each other and to help those who are coming.”
The first edition of Festival PAAX GNP will take place at the Xcaret Arte Hotel in Quintana Roo (Mexico) from 29 June to 3 July 2022. It is a unique experience, designed by Alondra de la Parra to enjoy the best music, dance and gastronomy for 5 days in the heart of the Mexican Caribbean. It will be the meeting point for outstanding international talents in classical music and dance, as well as a platform to present new and innovative artistic projects. Among the pieces to be presented will be the premiere of the Sinfonía Imposible, by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, as well as the show The Silence of Sound, created by Alondra de la Parra and Gabriela Muñoz, aka Chula the Clown. In addition, the choreography Finale Finale by Christopher Wheeldon will be premiered; he will also present a fragment of the new ballet adaptation of Laura Esquivel’s novel Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate).
The festival programme features other outstanding works and a cast of well-known artists including Nemanja Radulovic, Aleksey Igudesman, Guy Braunstein, Edicson Ruiz, Rolando Fernández, Felix Klieser, as well as dancers from the Royal Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet.
In addition to bringing together the best in music, the PAAX GNP Festival seeks to promote the education of children and young people in the region. With this objective in mind, the ‘Armonía Social’ programme has also been created, which offers different activities related to musical education in which different communities from the states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo will take part. ‘Armonía Social’ will culminate in a performance of the students playing side by side with the stars of the Festival.