Posted by Elsabeth Parkinson
Wednesday 18th January, 2017

In Conversation with Dietrich Paredes


Week 1: Bishop Orchestra conducted by Dietrich Paredes

Saturday 14 January, 4pm
DVOŘÁK Silent Woods
VERDI The Force of Destiny: Overture

Saturday 14 January, 7.30pm


Venezuelan conductor Dietrich Paredes grew up as part of a musical revolution in his homeland. One of an estimated 700,000 young musicians to join a state-subsidised music education program, he experienced orchestral music as a social development strategy. Its effectiveness has been documented in numerous international studies. The Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar, nicknamed ‘El Sistema,’ is a radical approach that includes an early introduction to Russian repertoire. It was here that Dietrich first encountered Shostakovich and his remarkable Symphony No.5 in D minor.

‘The symphony was a difficult moment for Shostakovich,’ he says. ‘He started composing it in April and finished in June – three months. But the third movement he wrote in three days. It’s amazing. It’s an intense, nostalgic movement, with a lot of pain and anger. The first movement is strong, half joyous but also half dramatic. The second movement is sarcastic, because of the political situation in Russia.’

At this time under Stalin, individual expression was denounced in favour of art which supported Party principles. In 1936, Shostakovich himself landed on the blacklist: the avant-garde sounds of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District had outraged the Russian dictator. While living under the fear of imminent arrest, he quickly began work on his fifth symphony as a conciliatory, though double-edged, response. The subtle sarcasm in the allegretto (which Shostakovich got away with) lends impetus to the triumph which Dietrich finds in the last movement.

For Dietrich Paredes, understanding the composer is crucial to accessing the music. ‘When I conduct a symphony,’ he says, ‘I need to feel, I need to identify with the composer. If I conduct only notes, it’s not the same. To conduct the music, you need to take the heart of Shostakovich in your hand.

‘It was terrible for him,’ he continues. ‘He wrote the symphony feeling this fear, fearing the attack of the people. I can’t say exactly what he felt. But the music – you can feel something in that. I think the best connection, the height of human communication, is the music.

‘The orchestra feels this. Young people have a lot of feeling. They have anger, passion, love –everybody feels these things. When they do, they can identify with the symphony.
‘The Verdi has all of this,’ he adds. ‘It has a dramatic beginning; it’s a very energetic piece. It’s really virtuosic,’ – a particular challenge for woodwinds – ‘and I think the beauty of the dramatic moment is when it, too, finishes triumphantly.’ Is this out of place in the overture to a tragic opera? Dietrich Paredes thinks not.

The Force of Destiny – the name says it all. Sometimes I use this for young people because they do go through terrible moments in their lives, and always I tell them, life is not perfect. In life we need to be strong to overcome the challenge and continue. In this opera it’s not a beautiful ending, but the overture is something different. The arpeggio at the end is dramatic, but it’s not sad.’

As the curtain drops on the opera, the surviving lover prays ecstatically over his dying beloved. Perhaps we hear in the closing notes that repentant prayer, ringing with the triumph of ultimate redemption.

To accompany two such forceful works, Dietrich considers Dvořák’s Silent Woods a perfect counterpart. Beside the more robust Verdi and Shostakovich, he says, ‘it’s like a sweet taste. It’s like rain, the forest… and it’s the sound of the forest. It’s magical.’

As the winds echo with birdsong, velvety legato lines from the cello hint at the leaf-whisper behind woodland silence. None better for this task than Li-Wei Qin, AYO’s Artist in Residence, with whom Dietrich is excited to be working.

‘Li-Wei is an excellent cellist,’ he enthuses. ‘I have great honour in sharing the music with him. I think we’ll be great.’

– Elsabeth Parkinson*

* Words About Music participant at AYO National Music Camp 2017