Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spokane Symphony assistant conductor Jorge Luis Uzcátegui on Christmas traditions

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 1:07 PM

Besides all of the sticky sweet Christmas tunes of old, this weekend’s traditional Spokane Symphony Holiday Pops concert will include songs not normally featured. The show’s conductor, Jorge Luis Uzcátegui, has added traditional Yuletide carols from Venezuela, his home country, to the bill. (Similar to how Eckart Preu brought his New Year’s Eve Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony tradition from Germany.)

Much of the concert will be the same — the Spokane Symphony teams up with the Spokane Symphony Chorale and Spokane Area Youth Choirs to play all of those holiday favorites. But Uzcátegui is excited to share part of his culture with Spokane, as well.

We caught up with the assistant conductor Monday, while he was in Los Angeles, to talk holiday traditions and what it's like working with the Spokane Symphony organization. 

It’s been a year since being an assistant conductor with the Spokane Symphony, how has it been going?
I officially started this September, but I’ve been working with the symphony for a year. This is an incredible opportunity for me, working with a high-caliber orchestra because they are so committed to the community. With my background being from Venezuela, I’m passionate about teaching kids, a lot of kids from underprivileged backgrounds. Through the Music Innovates program [a collaboration between the Spokane Symphony and the Spokane Public Schools, which Uzcátegui is director], I get to combine my two passions, making music to the highest level and then also teaching.

Tell me about your holiday traditions? Do you try and be home to Venezuela for Christmas?
Big traditions, it’s a time where all family comes together. I live out of town, but I’m going to be there with my family, parents and my sister's coming from Boston. Christmas Eve is more so for close family but New Year’s Eve is the big gathering. There are tons of fireworks.

How is it different there than in America?
I’ve been here since 2000, I finished high school in South America then went to college here. American influence is big in Venezuela. Although the people in power are trying to sell socialism, they do like to prep for Christmas, they put out lights a long time before Christmas. They put on the big cross in the capital on Dec. 1, it’s an excuse to buy stuff and give gifts. I’ve only celebrated in this country once. It was so clam here.

Do you tire of Christmas music because the music is more simple than other kinds or orchestral music, or is this the sort of performance you look forward to?
This music is challenging in different ways. This time we have two different choirs participating and so from those logistical aspects, it’s hard to keep everything together. Some of the works we're working on are Venezuelan carols. Those pieces are not so easy. We don’t even know what vocalist Abbey Crawford will be singing at the concert, that will be a contest decided by the audience. Essentially, we have to prepare a lot of things that we don’t even know how it’s happening. Santa Claus is showing up, too.

When do rehearsals begin for this show?
Tonight is another rehearsal with the choir. Yes, I'm getting on a flight tonight. Normally, I fly up to Spokane two times at a week for the Music Innovates program, but this week will be more. The full orchestra rehearsals begin on Friday and Saturday.

What is your favorite Christmas song?
Wow, I really don’t know what to tell you. I think that’s why there are so many Christmas medleys written, because no one can decide. They all represent the celebratory style. Preparing for this concert I’ve thought about it, though. Although I’ve been in this country a while, I feel myself still to be Venezuelan and I miss my family a lot. When I was working on these carols, the feeling that I had working on this with an American choir and orchestra, it’s really special to me. I hope the audience will take these well, I understand they won’t feel the way I will, because they didn’t grow up with them. But the text depicts the folklore of my country. How would Jesus look if he was from Venezuelan, is what one song is about.

Favorite Christmas movie?
I just don’t watch movies anymore, I used to watch movies, like other people would, and then there was a time in college I was watching international films. But the last time I watched a movie was Psycho, when the symphony played with that film earlier this year. I just don't have time!

What do you want for Christmas this year?
Really, what I pray for everyday, for world peace. For a better humanity, to have everything we need to be successful in this world. We try to use aggression to communicate with others. But we’re not respecting the different cultures and religions, that’s why music is so powerful. There are no differences, the only thing is to make great music. That’s why I’m so committed to help kids be able to play music. Music knows no harm. In orchestra, you become a team and you become sensitive, not only in our brains, but also in our hearts.

Sat, Dec. 19, at 8 pm; Sun, Dec. 20, at 2 pm • $14-$62 • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • 

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Laura Johnson

Laura moved to the great Inland Pacific Northwest this summer. She is the Inlander's new music editor.