A cool change had decided to embrace Brisbane on the day I interview the Music Director of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Alondra de la Parra. It’s a good thing too, as I’m feeling a little flustered. You see, I have watched Alondra from the audience at many concerts and marvelled at her confidence, her vibrant energy as a conductor, her ability to charm an audience and command an entire orchestra, all the while looking effortlessly beautiful, serene and engaged in the moment. I have interviewed many people and today for the first time, I actually feel nervous.
We meet at the home of QSO in South Bank and proceed to the neighbouring Champ Kitchen and Bar for coffee and a chat. We sit side by side on a comfy couch, looking across the expanse of the murky Brisbane River, ceiling fans whirr overhead.
Alondra looks even younger offstage and up close. She is sporting an effortless jeans and white shirt combo topped by a covetable houndstooth jacket embellished with silver stars. Her very cool patterned sneakers, in tones that match the jacket were, “A present from my parents.”
Alondra exudes that effortless, international chic favoured by world travellers who criss cross the globe for their craft. I must admit I am surprised by her clear blue eyes. I had expected them to be brown, like mine.
Love shines from those eyes as she tells me her father is in town visiting, “ He is so very funny. It’s wonderful to have him here.”
We place our orders. Flat white and banana bread for Alondra and an almond latte for me. She has been so busy all morning she needs the sugar lift. I am touched when she offers to share her treat with me. This is the first thing I have learned about Alondra. She is considerate of others. As we talk further her responses are considered and thoughtful. We smile as we share the fact that we are both mothers of sons. Mothers of boys always share that special bond, as though we are in on a secret that no- one else shares.
Alondra’s self belief and confidence may have something to do with the family she has come from. Her father is a novelist. Her mother is an educator and sociologist. When I ask about her grandmother, Yolanda Vargas Dulche, also a writer, Alondra says, “Yes, she wrote comic books and novellas.”
It’s not until I delve deeper that I find out her grandmother taught entire generations of Mexicans to read through her works.
“My parents were always supportive and encouraged me to follow my passion.”
Her greatest passion from an early age was music, but now I sense this passion is rivalled by her love for her sons.The youngest is only seven months old.
Alondra began studying piano at age 7 and knew from the age of 13 that she wanted to be a conductor. To fulfil this dream she first studied piano and cello before finally studying as a conductor. Alondra says, “ From the ages of 19 to 30 I studied in New York at the Manhattan School of Music.” No overnight sensation then!
Her love for her Mexican heritage was shown when at the age of 23 in 2004 she founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas to champion Mexican composers. She has also included an ode to football in next year’s QSO program, with the Latin American Gala in August. This concert will see Alondra conduct an American vs Brazil orchestral sound- off.
Before her appointment as Music Director at the Queensland Symphony Orchestra Alondra had never been to Queensland. She was the first female Music Director in Australia.
When I ask about the similarities and differences between Mexico and Brisbane, Alondra becomes very animated and it is clear that she loves both places for different reasons.
She says, “Mexico City and Brisbane are very different. I love the slower pace of life here in Brisbane, especially for my family. My work is very busy but when I am at home I can concentrate on my boys. I love the climate and being here with my children is very easy. In Brisbane my life is all about the Orchestra and my kids.
In Mexico life is very busy. It’s a very big, bustling city with lots of lively restaurants and the most museums in the world. As you know travelling is more difficult the more kids you have, so it’s great to have a base where we can stay for a while. The family always travel together and after Brisbane we will be heading to Hamburg before going home.”
Alondra and her family call Brisbane home for four months a year.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra Highlights
I explain to Alondra that it is only in recent years that I have been coming along to the Symphony Orchestra. I have always loved music and now marvel at the full program which seems to cater for a variety of musical tastes. I ask Alondra if there have been any surprises or highlights this year.
She explains, “It’s great that you come along. We are the Orchestra for everyone and we want to make music accessible across the generations and for all different types of people. There are really no surprises for me, we know the program and have rehearsed long before. We reserve the surprises for you, our audience. My highlight has been the Bernstein concert which celebrated what would have been his 100th birthday. I also enjoyed performing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Next year I am excited to work with Artist -in – Residence pianist Paul Lewis and right now I am concentrating on the upcoming Mahler concert on November 24. A musician I would like to work with in the future is Yevgeny Kissin.”
A bookworm like me can’t resist asking Alondra what books she reads and she pulled a slim volume of Nietzsche from her voluminous black handbag.
“I don’t have much time for reading as most of my time is for my boys and the Symphony. I read things that relate to the music we are about to play. A novel I have just read is my friend Luisa Reyes Retana’s debut novel- Arde Josefina and it was very good.”
In parting Alondra favours me with the quick double kiss and invites me to the upcoming Mahler concert. I’m already heading to an event that night, “Come along to a rehearsal. It will be good for you to come along and see behind the scenes.”
She is quickly whisked off to her next radio interview but not before answering my last probing question, “Shoes or handbags?” Although I already know what her answer will be. Have you seen those shiny, shoes she wears on stage? For the record they are an Italian brand called Fratelli Rosetti and she is about to buy some more as they are starting to wear out after such a busy concert season.
Alondra de la Parra is a dynamic, energetic and powerful conductor who is also a young mother, world traveller and shoe lover. As I head outside, the City Cats are zooming up and down the river and I smile as I realise my nerves have gone and I have been put at ease by this passionate musician and lovely soul. As the Queensland Symphony Orchestra season draws to a close I am looking ahead to some of next year’s highlights and know that my Orchestra, the Orchestra for everyone, is in safe hands with Alondra de la Parra steering the ship.