Welcome back to the Graduate Interviews!
This month, I'm joined by conductor, composer, and scholar, Vicente Chavarría. During his time in London, Vicente worked with the Croydon Youth Orchestra, Oxford University Orchestra, Ernest Reed Symphony Orchestra, and Wimbledon Symphony Orchestra, and participated in masterclasses with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Salomon Orchestra. Whilst studying at the Royal College of Music, he worked with all the college orchestras, assisting such conductors as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Bernard Haitink and Holly Mathieson to name but a few!
Vicente and I graduated together in 2019 and it's been a real treat to catch up with him both for this edition of "The Graduate Interviews" but also for his brand new podcast "Singing For Your Supper" which is available here!
So please, enjoy this wonderful interview with one of my favourites, Vicente Chavarría!
How have you found life since graduating from the Royal College of Music in 2019?
I, like so many others, was doing great until Miss Rona decided to rain on my parade! Haha. In all seriousness, after managing to come back to the UK on an artist visa (I’m American originally), I was pleased to be gigging with various ensembles and reconnecting with College, but only five weeks in, we were forced into lockdown. Now, like so many thousands of other artists, I anxiously await the day when we can all gather again safely and freely, and concert venues can open without restrictions. I only wish our governments would see the true value of the arts in society, and that we are as essential as everyone else. I refuse to be told I’m not essential, and neither should any other artist. In the meantime, I’m wearing my mask.
What would you say is the main challenge for a conductor post graduation?
The main challenge is keeping up all the connections you've made during your time at College
whilst continuing to make new ones. The people we work with at our institutions—in our case, the Royal College of Music—are ones we're likely to continue to work with for the rest of our professional lives. Social media is great for this, but there’s nothing like keeping up personal contact. We’re also living in a saturated world: there are lots of great, talented conductors out there, both young ones entering the field and established ones who continue to work in various capacities. I’ve always believed in horror vacui, that nature abhors a vacuum: find your niche and fill it. As more people enter the field, this is becoming increasingly harder, but not yet impossible.
How have you managed to keep your creativity alive during COVID -19?
I’ve taken to creating silly videos with the Acapella app where I overdub myself performing all sorts of music. I started out with a cover of Lila Downs’ “La cumbia del mole”, then did some 8-part polyphony by Billings and Gibbons. I’ve even dabbled in Simon & Garfunkel covers! Basically anything that strikes my fancy. I’ve also acquired a plastic trombone and am slowly working through the movements. I’ve begun learning to code (a useful skill for anyone). And I’ve started a podcast—Singing For Your Supper—which I’m quite excited about! As churches have reopened in my neck of the woods, I've had a weekend church job which has given me a musical outlet that has helped keep me sane. On top of all this, I help out with the household when needed; I’ve been revisiting my cooking skills. (I make a mean chicken tikka masala!)
What are your hopes and plans for the future once the music world emerges from this pandemic?
Like a myriad others, I hope to go back to work! Conductors need groups of people in one place, and that’s a tricky thing in many parts of the world, particularly the US and the UK. I have some plans in the pipeline, from starting a choral society to continuing to work with whatever ensemble will have me. I hope that the industry, particularly in the UK, survives this and understands that the business model as usual is no longer viable in the long term. Music-making will be small, private, and intimate for a good part of the next few years. Too many people—particularly young people—are considering leaving the music industry altogether, and the consequences of that could be devastating. Without government aid for freelancers—many of which are recent graduates—it’ll become physically impossible for many of them to keep that life up. I just hope that we emerge from this stronger, smarter, and more flexible and willing to listen to others. The days of stuffy concerts are hopefully numbered.
What is your top tip for musicians in their first year as a music graduate?
I can’t pick just one. First, identify those you want to keep working with (which you’ll ideally have done while still in school) and make a point of staying in touch and continue performing with them, even if informally. Listen to your body and your mental health, and know when to say No. Know how much you’re worth and what your limits are; you don’t need to take every last audition. Don’t be afraid of looking for non-musical income sources, at least until you have steady employment. If you can, DO that graduate degree: it can only help you, not hurt you. And lastly, to quote my late friend and colleague Chris McMullen-Laird, always go to the pub with the musicians after a concert. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t performing but just watching. Always. Go. To. The. Pub. I cannot tell you the number of connections made and even gigs secured just because I went to the pub!
Thank you so much Vicente, for such an honest but uplifting interview! If you want to keep up to date with everything Vicente is doing, especially with those projects in the pipeline, you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Now Over To You!
As I said earlier in my last article, everything is better with friends and I want to hear from you!
Is there a specific topic you'd like to see discussed? Maybe you'd like to be interviewed as part of the Graduate Interviews? Or maybe you just want to share you're musical story?
Get in touch below or via my website, social media or email. I genuinely love to hear what you think!