On December 17, the Musical America Awards ceremony at Lincoln Center will honor Pablo Heras-Casado as conductor of the year. Heras-Casado has been a force on the world stage for quite some time, and now, he's making a home for himself in New York. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
It's hard not to notice a conductor, the bold strokes, the dramatic twists and turns leading an orchestra. And yet, according to conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, "A good orchestra is great because they all listen to each other and they all react to each other. So the conductor kind of disappears."
Pablo Heras-Casado is already well established in his native Spain, Germany and around the world. He is also now established in New York.
In the past year, Heras-Casado made his debut on the main stage at Carnegie Hall as the principal conductor of New York's Orchestra of St. Luke's. He also made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera.
"You are expected to bring a lot, to give a lot," he says. "People is really demanding, and you feel challenged, but in such a, such a positive and warm way, encouraging way, and this is unique."
He has more experience conducting symphony orchestras, but Heras-Casado started his musical career as a singer.
"In that moment, singers are so exposed, so exposed, and what they do is so difficult and so amazing," he says. "When they go on stage, they look at you and they know that you are there and that you are for them, and whatever happens, however they feel, you will be supporting. This is very important."
Heras-Casado comes from Granada, a small Spanish city of a little more than 200,000. He's spent a lot more time here since being named the Orchestra of St. Luke's principal conductor in 2011.
The life of a world-renowned conductor is a life of travel, often parachuting into cities for one or a series of concerts.
"I try to have a very normal life, to find a good coffee shop and a nice little restaurant where I can go every evening to the same place and have a routine," he says.
His days are filled with rehearsals and the delicate task of quickly studying an orchestra, gaining its respect and trust while gently pushing it to a greater performance.
"This is one of the most mysterious and complex parts of the job, and most important parts of the job, of course. It's extremely important," he says.
"You are there to bring the best of them, and you are there to help and to make something together that you respect profoundly what they do.
"When you can, and they can understand that you can do that, that works everywhere, regardless of the language, regardless of the culture or regardless of the level."
Heras-Casado displays a quiet self-confidence.
"I never was a dreamy boy, wished one day that I would conduct Berlin Philharmonic or would be at the Metropolitan Opera, never. And that wasn't my motivation at all," he says. "But at the same time, when I was convinced and passionate about something, I always thought, 'Why not?' Everything could be possible."
He grew up singing, but eventually wanted to shift his focus to conducting, so he started his own ensemble.
"That was the only way, I thought, and I was not going to wait until someone offers me or invites me to conduct," he says. "I'm not good at waiting for things to happen. I make things happen always. I try to make things happen."
It was around that time when the arts began to flourish in his small city in the aftermath of the death of Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco. He says he was given an opportunity his parents didn't have: going to University. However, his passion for music eventually led him to leave school.
"That was a hard time for my parents, and they were really courageous to accept what I did because I gave up university and also gave up music studies, academic music studies," he says. "If I want to learn, I want to learn in a way I believe in, so the academic system, at that time in Spain or in Granada where I was studying, it wasn't the best for me, and I considered that I need to do it in my own way, to make my own program."
Heras-Casado speaks six languages. He has an intellectual curiosity. His education didn't end when he left University.
"I can still read, I can still travel, I can still look, and that was what I was doing at the time," he says. "So that was an attitude. I don't know if it's very, it's rebellious or not, but I believed that that was my, the way that worked for me."
Heras-Casado hasn't lived here long, but he gets New York. He was once invited to a Met New Year's Eve gala to hear Placido Domingo sing and then to dine with him. Domingo then proposed working together.
Heras-Casado celebrated the night in pure New York fashion.
"I ended up having the most delicious ever hot dog at 4 a.m. at Columbus Circle before going back to my room," he says.
Much has changed in Heras-Casado's world in the last few years, including his status as a New Yorker, albeit one with a home back in Spain. What has not changed is his feeling about the role of the conductor, dating back to the ensemble he created 20 years ago.
"I wasn't in front of them waving my hands, my arms. I was like a concertmaster. Sometimes they are leading without conductors," he says. "So it was part of ensemble, but also leading, and this was my move into conducting. And I still believe in that, even if I'm now in a podium in front of a huge orchestra with a big stage. and you have to be commanding, of course. It's about that act of creating something together. "