I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Gonzalo Farias, the new assistant conductor for the Virginia Symphony. He began his piano studies at age 5, and went on to win the prestigious Claudio Arrau International Piano Competition, as well as many other awards. So why has he decided to focus on conducting, why not be a concert pianist? “That’s a good question, I ask myself the same thing everyday,” he said, but for him there is one big reason to focus on conducting: people. “There is nothing more complex or rewarding and beautiful than dealing with people,” and being a solo pianist doesn’t satisfy his need for collaboration.

Tristan Morris-Mann interviews Dr. Gonzalo Farias

Dr. Farias has received many awards and opportunities as a conductor. He has gotten to work with Paavo and Neeme Järvi, Donald Schleicher, Jaap van Zweden, and a plethora of others that would make any conducting student drool. Most recently he has had the opportunity to work with Baltimore Symphony Music Director Marin Alsop and serve as her assistant, a dream for any conductor. From this experience he said he has learned so much about the ins and outs of the job. From working with the administration, to donors and audiences, and of course the musicians, he learned “how you, not convince, but seduce people to go in your direction, and she [Alsop] is the expert at that”.

There are many different approaches to conducting; some, like Toscanini, want to rule with an iron fist. So I asked Farias his approach. “To be myself… you can try to tailor make your ideal approach, like I want to be like Toscanini or like Kleiber, but really at the end of the day you can only be yourself. It’s a life journey to find out who you are.” I asked him what he does when he looks at a piece for the first time, and he chuckled and replied, “Oh we’d have to get a two-hour window to talk about it, it’s my whole life. It’s like when you meet a person for the first time, you get a first impression… but then if you really want to get to know the person, you have to ask questions and interpret the voice of the person ... relating how one thing connects to another.” He has a natural curiosity, so when he’s talking to his pals Ludwig and Gustav, he always looks deeper, a quality shared by Leonard Bernstein and many other great conductors.

In his first year with the Virginia Symphony Farias hopes to give the best of himself to the musicians. “I am nobody, and I can’t do anything without the musicians.” In order to do that, he says he must gain the trust and respect of the musicians, which he says does not come easy. Well, from where I am sitting, he will have no problem there. He has that warm and open personality that always wins over the crowd. After having the opportunity to sit and talk with him, I have no doubt that we are going to see amazing things from Farias this season. I am thrilled to see what he does with the orchestra, and where his career takes him. Farias’ first concert with the VSO is on July 12, and I can’t wait to see him working with the orchestra.

Hear Wayla Chambo speak with Farias on Tuesday, July 10 at 5:30 p.m. on WHRO 90.3 FM. If you miss the interview, you can listen to the archive on our Arts Conversations podcast.

For more information on the VSO season visit VirginiaSymphony.org.