Alondra de la Parra: «La música clásica y el rol de director se forjaron con estereotipos masculinos»

In front of the empty and darkened auditorium of the Palacio de la Ópera, Alondra de la Parra sits down to talk to ABC. Barely an hour ago she finished her first rehearsal with the Sinfónica de Galicia, with which she will perform for the first time in Europe the ‘Sinfonía imposible’ by her compatriot Arturo Márquez, a piece she commissioned and gave its world premiere last July. “I tend to get nervous at the first rehearsal, because I don’t know the orchestra, I don’t know if I’ve prepared well,” but once that rubicon is crossed, “90 percent of the questions are answered”.

For the Mexican conductor there are usually many. Due to the inertia of the times, there are many questions about gender and the role of men and women on the podium. “There may have been some interviews where I was not mentioned this topic -she jokes-, I hope for the day when it won’t have to be mentioned”. However, she lends herself to the game, because if anything characterizes her is that she doesn’t hide behind the lectern or wave her baton like a magician’s wand to avoid uncomfortable questions. “Of course there is masculine and feminine in music, but it has nothing to do with the performer, but with the music itself”.


Idea and gender

“It’s still sad that we think of female and male directors,” she laments, “I only see artists. I’m interested in what their idea is going to be, not their genre. I don’t know if we have anything to do with each other just because we are women”. She is only interested in the story they have in front of the orchestra, the story they want to tell from their own expressiveness. “I consider myself an artist who conducts -she defines herself-, I consider how to design the sound and make these musicians react from their innermost fibers and be able to express something that has a value for them and for the public”.

De la Parra strips himself of all the atavisms that weigh down the figure of the conductor. “Concert music and the role of the conductor have been forged with stereotypes that are totally masculine, patriarchal and obsolete for what we do”. In her opinion, an idea of “a figure with tails that is like a caricature” has been configured, the fruit “of a concept of leadership that has permeated our humanity throughout history.”

Alondra de la Parra (New York, 1980) has the blood of an artist in her veins. “My grandmother was a great writer [Yolanda Vargas Dulché], my grandfather and my father too [Guillermo and Manelick de la Parra]; my aunt is an actress [Emoé de la Parra] and my brother is an actor and singer [Mane de la Parra]”. “I sang and danced a lot and was told many stories” in Mexico City, where she moved when she was two years old. Music is precisely that for the director, that story that builds on the script that the composer writes in the score.

Cello and piano

At the age of seven she began her cello studies, and at thirteen she began studying piano. “That’s when I said I wanted to be a conductor.” She continued her studies at the Manhattan School of Music and at the age of 23 she founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. Her desire was to have an instrument with which to disseminate the music of the American continent, from Aaron Copland to Alberto Ginastera, passing through José Pablo Moncayo, Inocente Carreño, Leonard Bernstein or Márquez himself.

“For many years there was a lack of curiosity on the part of the European countries, which were and are the center of classical music.” They were “self-absorbed”, kidnapped by a “Eurocentrism” that led them to think “that Latin American music did not exist”. In her apostolate she has been accompanied by Gustavo Dudamel, Andrés Orozco Estrada, Gabriela Montero or Giancarlo Guerrero, names of the international classical scene. “Twenty years later we are in a more normal place”, although the pages of these authors “are still not part of the standard repertoire”.

Her first time at a lectern was at the age of 19. The veteran Charles Dutoit invited her to get up on a rehearsal at the grand Teatro Colón with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. “From the first moment I got on I felt that this was my place to live, that I was in the right place.” His baton -which has “never” trembled- has been followed in recent years by orchestras such as those of Paris, Verbier, Berlin Radio, Dresden, Monte Carlo, Malmoe, Barcelona, the BBC, Copenhagen…. The list is long.

Cultural ambassador

De la Parra relativizes. “They are mundane career steps, that’s not the director’s job.” Another tic of times past. “Is being a conductor the career, having a thousand orchestras, being very famous? It’s all very much him,” in the masculine singular. She returns to the idea of the artist. “The repertoire is so broad and we have so much history backwards and forwards of music and sounds to discover that there’s always something new to learn. That’s part of staying a child.”

A cultural ambassador for Mexico, she recently premiered in her country the show ‘The silence of sound’, in which symphonic music and mime are paired. “It’s a project for children from 0 to 120 years old with the works I love”, from Debussy to Prokofiev, Brahms and Bartok. He dreams of exporting it outside his homeland and that it reaches the new generations for their own awakening to concert music, “which is not classical, a lousy name”. “Serious music has nothing, we are artists, minstrels, we have to take risks and push the limits as far as we can”.

He has also launched in his country a project comparable to the orchestra systems that maestro José Antonio Abreu started in Venezuela. “They work 100%”, defends De la Parra, “if you see the number of children who didn’t dedicate themselves to music and passed through there…. Being an artist is a gift; it prevents you from getting into thousands of other things because you’ve already tried something that is one of the most beautiful things in humanity, how can you go back to harm yourself or others.

“Music is the food of the soul,” he adds, “when I think that education only focuses on math, language and some science…. So what about music? It’s not a privilege to learn how to play a nice concert and have your granny applaud you, it’s much more.” He sets a goal. “We have to reach a day when the most advanced nations understand that mathematics, language, philosophy and music have to be taught; that’s what the Greeks did. Why did we lose it?”.

Until that day comes – and if it comes – De la Parra will continue to conduct at a time when he says he senses a great desire for music. The pandemic forced society “to an absolute fasting of human, analog music” and forced “a saturation of digital and screens”. Now, “you open the doors and they come running”. She will be waiting at the lectern.