Andrés Lopera
Western Wayne News Podcast
Western Wayne News Podcast

“We serve the community with the music that we present.” In this episode of the Western Wayne News Podcast, newly hired Richmond Symphony Orchestra music director Andrés Lopera talks about music as a common language, the way music selection and performance can give us insights into other experiences and cultures, and exciting plans coming together for upcoming RSO seasons.

A Spanish language version of this episode is also available.


Andrés Lopera: I am Andrés Lopera, and I am the new music director of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra.

Kate Jetmore: From Civic Spark Media and the Western Wayne News in Wayne County, Indiana, I’m Kate Jetmore. As a native of Richmond, Indiana and longtime host of The Listen Podcast, I’m excited to be sitting down with some of our neighbors and listening to the stories that define our community. My guest today is Andrés Lopera, a native of Colombia. He’s considered one of the leading Latin American conductors working in the US today. Lopera is based in Columbus, Ohio, where he’s currently serving in his third season as associate conductor of the Columbus Symphony and music director of Columbus Youth Symphony Orchestra. After a lengthy search process, Lopera recently entered a three-year contract as the Richmond Symphony Orchestra’s fourth ever music director. Welcome, Andrés. I’m so happy that you could join me on the show today.

Andrés Lopera: Thank you so much for inviting me.

Kate Jetmore: You and I have something in common, which is that we both live in countries that are not the countries where we were born, and in our day-to-day, we navigate the world in a language that’s not our mother tongue. I’m curious to know if you see music as a language.

Andrés Lopera: Yes. In fact, people always say that music is the international language, is a way that we all can communicate, it’s one of the most beautiful things about music, especially since in the Western music, we have all the same 12 sounds. In other different cultures, mostly in Asia, they have a different type of sound structure, but through all of these sounds, we communicate and we create beautiful harmonies and melodies that they connect us together, and that’s one of the most beautiful things that allowed me to be here in the United States making music. The fact that it’s a language that I could learn in Colombia, the fact that it’s something that we all connect us humans, it gives you this amazing way of that, regardless of your language, regardless of your background, your financial background, your anything, your religions, anything that you can put into the equation, if you can play music, if you can connect with those 12 sounds of the chromatic skills, if you do that and bring it towards the lands of what the composer brought and the music that we want to achieve, everybody is welcome.

Kate Jetmore: What about language learning? I assume that you began your music studies before you began your English studies. Did your music studies help you as you were learning English?

Andrés Lopera: Unfortunately, I don’t think those two are connected. It’s very different when you’re learning music than what you’ve learn at a second language. They are similar learning paths in ways that you can construct phrases in music and in ways that you… There’s similar things, but there’s no past tense in music, there’s no… No, it’s just not it.

Kate Jetmore: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I can see that. Let’s talk about the search process, which you participated in over the last year, which led you to being hired as the new music director for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. What were some of the elements that you prepared and brought to that process?

Andrés Lopera: Well, it was very exciting to be invited as one of the final candidates for the position. Definitely, that was very exciting to have the opportunity. And then after this, when I learned that I was the last candidate, that I was closing the concert, in my criteria for preparing the concert that I was to perform with the orchestra, I really wanted to highlight the orchestra and the strengths of the group. And that’s why I decided to program Scheherazade, which is a beautiful piece of music that basically has solos all throughout the orchestra, plus a huge concert master solo. So I really wanted to celebrate the orchestra with its community and learn from the musicians of the orchestra while letting them shine into performing these beautiful solos and this beautiful music.

Then constructing backwards from that came to… I wanted to share a little bit of my heritage, and that’s why we started with Las Cuatro Danzas from Estancia, Four Dances from Estancia by Ginastera who is an Argentian composer, and it comes through the lineage of European music and is very energetic for little dances, which is also very exciting because the first piece, while being four dances, they’re little snippets that people can just go into this, into that, into that, into that which sometimes is easier than getting to a 40 minutes of music and being able to follow the journey. So I wanted to give everybody that space to learn different ideas and things that happen with the orchestra, which took me to the next piece, which is Manuel de Falla, Nights in the Gardens of Spain, where you are at the moment.

And Manuel de Falla wrote this piece, and it’s one of the most beautiful piano pieces, but it’s very underperformed. A lot of people don’t know it very well. So I got in contact with Norman Krieger, the head of the piano faculty from Bloomington, Indiana, Jacobs School of Music, and we agreed that he wanted to perform the piece. He was very excited about it. And this specific piece takes this sort of Arabian type of Middle Eastern type of approach to the sound, which connects very much with the sound that we are performing in Scheherazade, which is from the Arabian Nights. And so it was a very tight and very purposeful program that I wanted to present. I think the community was very excited with everything that we did. I was very excited to present it. And yeah, that’s how it came… The whole preparation, and then to come out to a terrific concert. I thought it was very exciting.

Kate Jetmore: Mm-hmm. Well, I certainly heard many positive things about it. Your career has led you to perform all over the United States, of course, but also in your home country of Colombia and throughout Central and South America. I’d love to know what similarities and differences you’ve noticed in the audiences in each of those unique areas of the world, and even to go one step beyond that, what sets the audiences in our community apart?

Andrés Lopera: What I have learned from traveling around the world and getting to know different audiences and different orchestras, what is beautiful and humbling about that is how we all as humans can resonate with at tune. Regardless of anywhere where you are, some of these composers, the well-known composers who have passed the test of time, that have keep being there, it is really inspiring to see how people are overtaken by emotions or connecting to the music. It’s very interesting to understand how every orchestra, at least from my point of view, you need to tailor to your community. I always have seen the orchestra as well. We are a nonprofit organization that is unserved of the community. We serve the community with the music that we present.

So for me, what I’m looking forward in Richmond is to get to know more of the community and invite them to our concerts, and so we can make also very direct, very intentional concerts that will reflect what the experience of being in Richmond is like, what all of these things that we can provide too. And on the other side, just to have these journeys around the world that we can create through music. So it’s not only audiences, but it’s understanding music as a live entity and how it connects us as humans.

Kate Jetmore: Mm-hmm. It sort of sounds like you’re saying, “I want to focus on the community, which is almost like a microscope or a magnifying glass, but also let’s all take a step back and take a bird’s eye view of the world and learn about different cultures and different traditions.”

Andrés Lopera: Absolutely. That is what is very privilege about my position. My job is to bring music and exciting music to the community and to also take a look around the world what is more impactful, what are the needs of the community that they should be learning, or what other things can we expose people to keep developing the art form, the recognition for music, and it is a need. We all need music. It’s part of our lives. Orchestral music or not orchestral music, I don’t call it classical music because classical is not just classic. It’s not something that is classy or something that is kind of too far from reality. I just call it orchestral music because it is a music played by the orchestra as simple as that. And it’s for the community also to come and celebrate the music that we create.

Kate Jetmore: What do you think it is about music that we need?

Andrés Lopera: We need everything in regards to music because it’s something that we live through it. You can say that probably you’re not the best singer, but every time that you speak, some sounds come of your mind, and they have an organization. You will recognize in the inner parts of your brain the beautiful melodies that make you exciting when you were a kid, when you were in a… Or a sound that got you excited or scared is the world of sounds, and how we organize those sounds then become music. But the rhythm is in your body, is in a how can you walk. You keep your own rhythm, your heart palpitations is all your rhythm. The way that you breathe, the way… Everything is all of the principles of what we do in the orchestra, what we create while creating musics are in everybody’s life.
So when we connect those two… As I always say, my invitation is to come to the world of sounds. We live in such a visual world that is sometimes difficult to detach from that world and come to a purely sound space, but to connect those parts is very exciting.

Kate Jetmore: Let’s talk for a minute about the future. What new initiatives are you excited to bring to Wayne County as the new music director of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra?

Andrés Lopera: So there are a lot of ideas that we’re trying to implement, budget permits into what we want to create. But definitely, into going to some specifics, I’m looking to probably do a movie with the soundtrack being performed by the orchestra. We’re working on scene, what is possibilities of commissioning works, especially with the rich history of Richmond, Indiana that has all of the Gennett Records company and the pianos. There’s so much that can be celebrated. So maybe to do a commission or two and perhaps seeing what can we do to bring opera, to do an opera production with the orchestra. So we’re seeing how can we focus our efforts in a different strategy for each one of the three seasons that I’m currently as the music director. So it’s going to be very exciting. I am thrilled and excited about this. I cannot wait to… We’re going to have a good time, and we want you all to come and enjoy all of this with us.

Kate Jetmore: Well, I’m excited just listening to you talk about it, and I’m sure you’ve been told that there’s also a deep history of opera in Wayne County as well from the Whitewater Opera Company, which I remember going to see when I was a little girl and even performing with when I was a little girl. But can we go back to what you were saying about a movie? Are you talking about projecting a movie that is already made but the orchestra is playing the soundtrack live?

Andrés Lopera: Exactly.

Kate Jetmore: Okay. Okay.

Andrés Lopera: Exactly. That has been happening with many different orchestras around the United States, and looking into the programming of what has been done for the last couple of years with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, I don’t think that that has ever been done. And I think it’s something that it will be excited for the community. We are looking into some very exciting possibilities.

Again, this costs money. I think the community has also rallied behind the orchestra a lot this season, this last season, particularly in the search for the new music director. And I think now that I’m here, now that this is exciting, we want to keep creating this excitement, and I think this will be a great initiative to bring all of these different concepts, as I was telling you earlier, that are happening around the world that might not be known necessarily in Richmond at the moment, and that we can incorporate and I look forward to doing something like that, if possible.

Kate Jetmore: It sounds terrific. Andrés, I want to thank you so much for joining me today, for taking the time to sit down with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and I want to wish you all the best in your new position.

Andrés Lopera: Thank you so very much. It’s been a pleasure to get to meet you and thank you for giving me the opportunity through your podcast to reach out to everybody and all the listeners. Please come to your Richmond Symphony Orchestra and know that everybody’s welcome.

Kate Jetmore: Thank you, Andrés. For more information, visit our website at I’m Kate Jetmore, and I’ll see you next time.

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