On that Note: Rodrigo Gonzalez-Jacob
On That Note introduces a member of the orchestra. This issue features Conducting Fellow, Rodrigo Gonzalez-Jacob.
How long have you been involved in music?
Honestly, I can't recall a single moment in my life when I wasn't somehow immersed in music. I didn't come from a family of artists: my mother is a doctor, and my father is an engineer. But I remember my mother always being intrigued by the fact that I showed an interest in watching cartoons without paying much attention to the screen.
Later on, she discovered that my real fascination was with classical music rather than the cartoons themselves. From the age of six, I began participating in the school choir, followed by joining rock bands with my friends, and eventually playing the viola in youth orchestras. I can't, and couldn't, envision my life without music.
What made you decide to pursue conducting?
I recall enduring some quite tedious and challenging rehearsals, sometimes inevitable. However, every now and then, a change in the conductor's mood could have a significant impact on the entire group. I came to understand this vividly when I was 14 years old and involved in a choir. That was the first glimmer of curiosity and desire. What if I were on the podium? Would I be capable of leading all these people?
The pivotal moment for me came during a summer festival when I was 16. I could read sheet music, play the piano, and often assisted other singers in learning their parts for Bach's Mass in B minor. I also remember many young instrumentalists approaching me for guidance when it came to navigating the intricate fugues within the piece.
The feeling was unique; you feel accomplished when others succeed. I guess you could liken it to a football coach. They might be one of the most influential "players," but they never step onto the field, as we don't actually produce any sound. Yet, we are involved in music.
It was then that I decided I wanted to become a conductor. I dreamt of being able to convey positive leadership. I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with musicians and acting as a bridge to engage with the audience.
The role of a conductor encompasses various aspects, not just those related to rehearsals but also understanding the community and shaping a season with its unique identity and vision. I firmly believe that a conductor is a public servant. An orchestra can bring together people of all ages without regard to gender, race, or ethnicity, both among its musicians and in its audience. A young, talented student starting their first day of work can coexist with an experienced musician giving their farewell performance. Isn't that truly wonderful?
Considering everything mentioned earlier and to answer your question: To help create a better world.
What are you most excited about in your involvement with Eugene Symphony?
It's impossible to give a single answer. Let's break it down.
Working under Francesco's guidance is incredibly motivating. He has a unique ability to make the orchestra express itself and sound exceptional, all within a friendly yet musically demanding environment. Each rehearsal, for me, becomes an advanced course in professionalism. This aligns perfectly with what the musicians need.
One distinctive feature of Eugene Symphony is the spirit that its musicians bring. This is an amazing group. They utilize every last second of each rehearsal to give their best, and I genuinely believe this orchestra has a lot of potential.
Beyond the artistic aspect and the incredible programming for this year, there's another dimension. Sometimes, the audience may overlook the fact that there is a dedicated team working behind the scenes. It's a highly professional group that keeps the machinery running smoothly, from the administrative staff to the technicians. This tight-knit community has been exceptionally welcoming to me and generously shared their insights. I believe it's one of the essential facets a conductor must understand to achieve successful management, a skill that only develops in the professional field. Eugene Symphony is enhancing my understanding of how a professional orchestra operates in the United States.
Undoubtedly, this experience with Eugene Symphony will leave a lasting impact on me.
When you’re not playing music, what would we most likely find you doing?
Over the past few years, I've been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My primary hobby was sailing on the river or in the sea. But since I've been in the US, especially in Oregon, every chance I get, I hop in my car and set out to explore the stunning Oregon landscapes. It doesn't matter if it's cold or raining; there's always a magical spot waiting to be discovered. I keep all the camping equipment I need in my car, so I can spend a night anywhere when the opportunity arises. I absolutely love reading my books accompanied by the sound of a waterfall, on the coastline, in the mountains, or in the forest.
What do you enjoy most about the Eugene community?
This is the easiest question!
It's the People.
I'm a highly sociable person. Even with my limited English, I absolutely love talking to strangers. I have a genuine interest in connecting with the community. Many individuals have fascinating stories. Starting from such diverse backgrounds, a series of choices and chance circumstances lead us to converge at a specific point. And here, even if it's just for a brief moment, we share a part of life.
I love chatting with people here. It helps me understand society, its needs, and its vision.
Furthermore, that helps to shape my perspective.
Maybe I've been fortunate, but I've found in Eugene a friendly, warm, curious, and enthusiastic community.
And as much as I adore nature, I believe that the greatest asset of this place is its people.
How do you prepare for a performance?
I have two sides, what I call the "academic" and my "Rodrigo mode."
First and foremost, there's a lot of studying involved. No matter how much you delve into a piece, it's never enough.
It's a common theme in conversations among conductors that every time we revisit a previous piece, we continue to uncover new elements. These discoveries often lead to different conclusions, regardless of how many times we've traversed a composition. I tend to jot down a series of reflections in my scores, accompanied by dates, which guide my decision-making process. Sometimes, when I return to a score I've studied in the past, I come across my own notes and write " I DISAGREE" next to them, sparking a debate with my past self. It's an ongoing and exhilarating process.
My more academic side involves delving as deeply as possible into a composition and the circumstances surrounding its creation. I envision a vision and strive to bring reality as close as possible to that utopia. This is where all the technical elements come into play as a conductor, allowing me to be of the most assistance to the ensemble. It's where I utilize a multitude of technical rehearsal and performance resources, and I try new things as I continue learning the art of conducting.
The second side is far more personal, hence the "Rodrigo mode." I need to understand why I'm doing what I'm doing. I require a reason that doesn't just appeal to my intellect but to my heart.
If it touches my core, then every note has meaning. As conductors, we don't just address the instrumentalist; we need to connect with the artist behind each instrument. We aim to engage the audience not as passive listeners but as an essential complement to the artistic experience. I believe that every concert celebrates life, love, and a humanity that, at times aware of its limitations, seeks to transcend them. I'm continually refining this aspect, and while I haven't fully mastered it yet (and probably never will), the direction is clear.
What is your favorite piece of all time to play and why?
Whenever I step up to conduct a piece, that composition becomes my all-time favorite.
So, to answer that question, you only need to know what I'm conducting at that very moment.
Where is your favorite place in Oregon?
I've traveled to many places this summer, from Crater Lake to the McKenzie River area, and along the entire Oregon coast from Brookings to Astoria. However, I have two favorite places, both of which are in Eugene.
The first is Nancy Hughes' house, where I stay. She is a person deeply involved in the community, cultured, intelligent, interesting, sensitive, and she makes me feel so at home that her house becomes my home.
The second place is the Hult Center. Walking through its halls during rehearsals with the Eugene Symphony and other beautiful projects is, for me, like a chef being in the kitchen of their favorite restaurant. It just feels so right to be there.
A Note from Rodrigo:
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the people who have made this experience possible for me. It is undoubtedly having a significant impact on my life already.
And I would encourage all members of this community to continue supporting this fantastic orchestra.
I have a challenge for all of you: If you enjoyed the show, bring a friend or family member to the next concert.
You would be amazed to discover how many young people are left captivated after being exposed to a symphony orchestra.