“You? But you’re a girl!” That’s what people told teenage cellist Alondra de la Parra when she told them she wanted to conduct a major symphony. “And you’re Mexican!”
De la Parra never let others’ expectations deter her. Born in New York, she returned there and enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. She learned much, but rarely heard works by composers from the Americas. Someone, she thought, should do something about it.
That someone was her. As a sophomore, she launched the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. It featured performers from 22 countries and quickly made headlines.
In 2010, their album “Mi Alma Mexicana” (My Mexican Soul) made the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Top Classical Albums sales list. They played at Lincoln Center and the White House. They played for the president of Mexico. De la Parra even started a program to teach composition to Bronx and Harlem high-schoolers.
Her particular style makes an impression — whether in a classroom or as a guest conductor in concert halls from Sweden to São Paulo. “Alondra has an immediate, palpable, visible resonance with the music,” and connects with audiences, says mentor Kenneth Kiesler. Opera legend Plácido Domingo has performed with de la Parra on several occasions and calls her “an extraordinary conductor.”
Already the first Mexican woman to conduct in New York City, de la Parra isn’t done making history.
When she lifts the baton this spring at the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane, Australia, she’ll be its first music director, a position that includes both conducting and overall artistic direction. She’ll join the handful of women conducting a major orchestra.
“I am a woman, I am a Mexican, but that is just part of the many ingredients that make me who I am,” she said. “It’s more three-dimensional than the particular labels.”
Here is Alondra de la Parra in action, rehearsing a section of Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s rhythmic “Danzón No. 2” with the Orchestre de Paris: