The Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship, founded in 2002 by Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony, offers a unique opportunity to young women conductors to immerse themselves in the art and business of performing classical music under the leadership of Maestra Alsop. Carolyn Kuan, Music Director of the Hartford Symphony, was the first recipient of the fellowship. Recently she invited Alexandra Arrieche to conduct Bizet’s “Carmen Suite” on one of our concerts. I invited Alexandra to meet with me to discuss the fellowship and her career.
The Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship was founded in 2002 by Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony. The fellowship offers a unique opportunity to young women conductors to immerse themselves in the art and business of performing classical music under the leadership of Maestra Alsop, the first female music director of a major American orchestra.
The fellowship came about after Ms. Alsop, an accomplished violinist, played a wedding for a wealthy client and approached him about her desire to be a conductor. Mr. Tomio Taki agreed to help her and the Concordia Orchestra was born in 1984. Eighteen years later, Ms. Alsop named the fellowship after her non-musical mentor.
According to Maestra Alsop:
“It is a privilege to be in a position to impact the lives of aspiring women conductors. I can clearly see what is needed to assist emerging conductors in the pursuit of their dreams and want to make the road easier and more rewarding for them. I have never ascribed to the philosophy that, ‘It was tough for me so it will be tough for you.’ My philosophy is: ‘It was tough for me so that I could make it easier for you.’ This is the philosophy of my non-musician mentor, Tomio Taki, who was compassionate and unwavering in his belief and support of my goals to become a conductor. Without Tomio, my path would have been far more difficult. That is why it is only appropriate to name this the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship, to honor Mr. Taki and to keep the name of our wonderful orchestra of eighteen years – Concordia, alive.”
The Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship (TCCF) has an impressive list of composers and conductors serving on the Advisory Board. TCCF has had seven fellows, and has recently expanded the fellowship to a two-year award, to allow for more flexibility in scheduling concerts with host orchestras. Recipients are awarded a stipend of $7,500 annually and spend one week conducting with six host orchestras. They are also given intense mentoring by Maestra Alsop, and exposure to basic orchestra management issues, including marketing, fundraising, and board development. The League of American Orchestras grants $2,500 annually to the TCCF
My own Music Director of the Hartford Symphony, Carolyn Kuan, was the first recipient of the Taki award back in 2003. Other past TCCF fellows have also had admirable careers:
Carolyn Kuan recently invited Alexandra Arrieche to conduct Bizet’s Carmen Suite at the Hartford Symphony’s February, 2013 Masterworks concerts. (The HSO has a continuing history with Taki fellows, as our previous Music Director, Edward Cumming, invited Mihaela Cesa-Goje, the 2009 fellow, to conduct Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun at a concert in February, 2011.)
While she was in Hartford, I invited Alexa to meet with me and talk about her experience as a Taki Fellow.
Ann Drinan: How has the Taki Fellowship affected your conducting career?
Alexandra Arrieche: My life changed completely – I was finishing a Masters degree at Bard College, studying with Harold Farberman, when I was awarded the Taki Fellowship. My teacher, Mr. Farberman, said I must finish at Bard first. So the first year of the fellowship, I finished my masters and studied with Marin. I’ve received lots of invitations for covering, for music festivals, and for guest conducting. Now I am the Baltimore Symphony-Peabody Conservatory Conducting Fellow, and I study with Gustav Meier and conduct the Peabody orchestra, as well as cover the BSO and work with Marin. I will also conduct the Atlanta Symphony this year. [Alexandra conducted Verdi’s La Forza del Destino on February 25, and received a wonderful review.]
Ann Drinan: How did you get interested in conducting?
Alexandra Arrieche: I started on piano, and then became a singer. I’m from a small city in the south of Brazil, and the only instrument available was piano. I got a small keyboard and started playing by ear. I was so annoying with that keyboard — my aunt was so frustrated with me that she asked me to play a really hard song. When I played the first few notes correctly she said, “It’s time for her to have piano lessons!”
My family moved a lot; we moved to Sao Paulo, so I didn’t have the same teacher for very long. Finally I went to a conservatory – I was accepted because the teachers said that I had a really good ear and that I was really musical. They jumped me to the seventh year and gave me repertoire that I wasn’t able to play, so I began to improvise. My improvisations became like new music. Then I started to write down my improvisations, and I realized that I was composing! People became interested and kept asking, “Write something for me.” I began to orchestrate my music, and in the end, I had my own little orchestra [when I was 14-15 years old]. I had to conduct because I was the only one who knew the music, and then suddenly I realized that I was conducting and I loved it.
When I was 16, I won a prize in composition and went to Spain. It was the first time I saw a professional orchestra – the Madrid Symphony was rehearsing Brahms Second. I thought, “This is a sign!”
Ann Drinan: You said you became a singer – when did this happen?
Alexandra Arrieche: I entered university majoring in composition, but then I discovered that I have a good voice, really high. I became first soprano and a section leader, but I was still composing and organizing instruments to play my music. The singers wanted me to write for them as well, so I organized a concert so they could sing my music.
What I really love to do is put people together to make music. My composition teacher told me, “You can always compose – if you want to become a conductor, you must start now.”
Ann Drinan: Tell me about your experiences as a Taki Fellow.
Alexandra Arrieche: To shadow Marin Alsop is a privilege – I’m learning with the best American conductor. Shadowing a female conductor is not the same as shadowing a male conductor because it’s different in the way they approach the orchestra. Marin says that we need to be more neutral. A conductor is not a man or a woman. You must use male gestures when you want something that is a male sound, and female gestures when you want something different. You can’t do either type of gesture all the time. Marin is now Music Director of the Sao Paulo orchestra (Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo) – it’s an amazinga coincidence that I won the Taki Fellowship and Marin got the job in my home city of Sao Paulo.
Ann Drinan: What has it been like to study with Maestra Alsop?
Alexandra Arrieche: To learn from Marin is really important. The position [as Taki Fellow] has changed my life. When you’re with Marin Alsop, she’s carrying you as a fellow and it gives you a lot of opportunities. The most important thing is how much I’m learning with her – she’s incredibly generous. Every place where she thinks I’ll learn something, she invites me to come, and she explains everything – music and also the administration part. When she has the opportunity to talk about the Taki Fellowship, she invites me to come. To see the process of her ideas is incredible – the ideas that she has about the orchestra in the 21st century is remarkable and completely different. She’s inviting the community to come into the concert hall.