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Alexandra Arrieche, Music director, Henderson Symphony Orchestra

As a conductor and music director, that is still her role today. “Conducting is not only moving your arms!” she jokes. Offstage, there are all the aspects that come with helping to run an orchestra, from organizing rehearsals to fundraising, and the technical demands that require a conductor to internalize every note played by every instrument.

In rehearsal, she likens her job to that of a theater director, with one key difference: Each musician has only a fraction of the score. Imagine each actor having a script with only their own lines. Everyone knows when the queen is coming and when the fight starts, she says, “but you don’t know who you’re talking to. You don’t know if you’re happy, if you’re sad. You don’t have the
context.” The conductor is the only one who has the whole story, and she has to tell it to the musicians before they can tell it to the audience.

Finally, there is the aspect Arrieche likens to painting or sculpture. She speaks of shaping the music, of light and dark, of drawing out particular colors. 

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But how does one get musicians to play in a different color, exactly?

“That’s the Harry Potter thing,” she says. That’s where the magic happens.

“It’s incredible how just the presence of a different person (changes) the sound of the orchestra,” she says. “Conducting is so physical. It’s body language. … We have all different shapes and ways to move and express. Just that can make all the difference.”

It’s worth noting that the bodies doing the conducting are still predominantly male. Women conductors have faced the predictable prejudice — that they lack the proper gravitas, risk distracting their male musicians, or should restrict themselves to certain composers (Debussy yes, Stravinsky no). It wasn’t until 2007 that a woman conducted a major American orchestra, when one of Arrieche’s mentors, Marin Alsop, took up the baton for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

At just 35 years old, Arrieche is in the vanguard of a new generation of conductors. She is helping to expand the concept of who can create classical music, and wants to expand the concept of who can enjoy classical music, as well. As a Brazilian, she did not grow up within a classical tradition that can seem a bit “sacred” — exclusive, even intimidating. 

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“Music is for everybody,” she says. “We should not have any walls.” That’s a fitting sensibility for the Henderson Symphony Orchestra, which has all volunteer musicians and presents concerts for free.

Arrieche believes that music does not need to be intellectualized or revered. It should be experienced and enjoyed — a little less sacred, a bit more magical. Joseph Langdon

The Henderson Symphony Orchestra will perform its season finale at 8p, May 12, in the Henderson Pavilion, 200 S. Green Valley Parkway,