Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship: A life-changing experience

By Valentina Peleggi

Two years have passed since I received the email offering me to be the new Taki Fellow. I remember my joy and my excitement! Writing it now, it feels like ages ago: I had no idea how much it would have been important for me, in my growth as a musician and as a human being, how much it would have changed me.

Valentina and Marin in Baltimore

Marin Alsop is finally the teacher I always searched for and had not found, the one who really cares for her students, who listens to them, who always considers their perspective and tries to understand them. The one who pushes you when you are hesitant, and understands your mistakes. The one who never judges you and always offers you help for developing and getting better. The one who stays with you on Skype for an hour, getting through the scores with you, when you desperately try to study one program in one night because you have to step in at a last minute. The one who really believes in you. Just for the chance to be a student of hers it would be worth it to be a Fellow. But there is much more.

In the past two years probably I had 10 weeks free, in total. Every other day I had the chance to be in direct contact with an orchestra, learning a huge amount of scores, traveling around the world assisting her and having the space for my own concerts. Marin Alsop offered me the chance to assist her for one month with the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and to rehearse/preprare the choir. Just one chance: it was 2015. The Fates had it that a conductor canceled right when I was there and I accepted to step in: then it all started.  I was invited other times during that season to assist and to fill in for other substitutions, and to keep working with the choir.

In 2016 OSESP offered me the official assistant conductor position. I started working with Marin on a more regular basis, we started a program together for nurturing young Brazilian conductors that it turned out being one of the most important programs in the country at the time. I then received the prize from the Society of the Arts of Sao Paulo as the Best Conductor of the Year and in 2017 I was offered the position of Conductor in Residence and the Principal Conductor of the OSESP Choir. It has been an incredible dream, and it all started with a chance opportunity.

Spending time in the concert hall every day, every week, helped me understand so many things: first, how the same orchestra sounds so different depending on the conductor of the week. It was revealing to me about the number of possibilities of sound that we, as conductors, might have from an orchestra. OSESP presents the same concert three times in a week: this showed me how much every night is different. I learned how to assist, to anticipate where might be problems to fix and why they needed fixing. I learned that musicians might be stressed, tired, but that they always look for excellence, professionalism, and how it is our job to push for our and their best performance.

I realized that life in this profession is not easy nor all shiny. Focus on the music, is the constant message I’ve learned, and always try to be open, to listen, to be self-critical. I’ve learned that espect is not asked for, and it is never a gift: it is gained day by day.

As a Taki Fellow I had the possibility to travel and to know other orchestras and to be involved in masterclasses in Europe and in the States (BBC Concert Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Baltimore Symphony, Omaha Symphony, Cabrillo Music Festival, League of American Orchestras). Each experience contributed to opening my view and my ears. I sat with orchestra members and listened to their advice: this was priceless and touching because no matter where, in which country or what level of the group, almost every musician has an incredible experience in their past and almost everyone is willing to be helpful. But really, everyone is ready to give soul and blood onstage— for the music. We must remember this every time we stand in front of an orchestra, because it is our responsibility to make that happen.

These two years have been the most intense ones of all my life. Thank you Marin, thank you Mr Taki and everyone who is supporting the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship. You are changing the paths of all of us Fellows!