Music, from Richmond County to the World. Exclusive interview with Maestro Alan Aurelia

Interview  by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Based in New York City, one of the most diverse and culturally rich environments for the arts and the many artists it supports, Maestro Alan Aurelia has distinguished himself as a conductor, an arts advocate, educator, and administrator. He is currently the music director of the Richmond County Orchestra, New American Youth Ballet and artistic director/conductor of the Riverside Opera Company.
He received full scholarships and fellowships to study at the Hartt School in Hartford,
Connecticut and the Conductors Institute at the University of South Carolina,
Columbia. He has served on the music faculties of Wagner College, the College of
Staten Island and the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Describing Maestro Aurelia’s virtuosity, composer and conductor Lukas Foss stated
that “He conducts very naturally, effortlessly and clearly enabling all in the
orchestra to follow every musical nuance and inflection quite easily”.
At the conclusion of a concert that Maestro Aurelia conducted in Italy, Joel Cohen of
the Staten Island Advance wrote that “he was called back five times for bows by a
standing ovation audience” and Michael Fressola, also from the Advance, noted
that “The concert strikes a multicultural chord with the audience”.
Under his baton, the Richmond County Orchestra was selected to perform at
the Guggenheim Museum’s NY.2022, a multi-media creation by Parisian visual artist
Dominique Gonzalez-Forester with music by the Berlin-based composer, Ari Benjamin
Meyers, which received a rave review from the New York Times. Maestro Aurelia has
also performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and he has been asked to conduct
in Carnegie Hall as well as in Miami, Florida, and Mexico. He has been a guest
conductor for the Bacau Philharmonic from Romania during Tuscany’s “Festival
Sinfonico di Massa” and for the Kiev Strings in Montegnioso.
In addition to performing the standard symphonic orchestral literature, Maestro Aurelia
conducts the opera, ballet, premiers of new compositions as well as the music of
Broadway. As a consequence of his versatility, he is comfortable in an array of
different genres and creates interesting and exciting programs that appeal to a broad
audience.
Maestro Aurelia’s Side-by-Side program for students stands out as a significant
marker of his dedication to music education, which is also reflected in the
establishment of the RCO Musicians Contest and the Instrument Petting Zoo,
programs that he initiated as music director of the Richmond County Orchestra that
actively support music education for young students in the New York metropolitan
area.
He has received several awards and honors for excellence in performance, education
and community relations. He has appeared on many local radio and TV programs in
New York and serves as chairman of the Board for Tribeca Music and Art in
Manhattan.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are the Music Director of the Richmond County Orchestra and the New American Youth Ballet Orchestra. How different is being the Music Director of an orchestra and of a Ballet group?
Alan Aurelia : It is easier to conduct the RCO when we are doing symphonic music together because there are just two variables orchestra and me. Together we try to make the composers music sound its best. When dancers are added to the mix the challenge becomes making the music “fit” the dancers’ movements, jumps, and gestures. The music has to be in the right tempo, time with the dancer(s). It’s akin to, the buzzer has to go off when your finger touches the doorbell, not before. The good thing about conducting ballet music with dancers is you don’t have to worry about playing too loud.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are also Artistic Director/Conductor for the Riverside Opera Company. What does this entail versus the positions that I refer to in the preceding question?
Alan Aurelia: Accompanying singers, with orchestra, especially opera is the most challenging conducting. Voices are very delicate instruments and as such, singers need to take liberties with tempos because of breathing, and a good opera conductor must never allow the orchestra to drown out the singer.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What is the operatic program of the Riverside Opera Company and where do they operate?
Alan Aurelia: The Riverside Opera Company is celebrating its 22nd season! Although based on Staten Island, it has performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Washington Square Park for Garibaldi’s bicentennial. They have performed all the major operas with full orchestra and continues to perform the popular opera numbers many times combining popular pieces as well as Broadway numbers.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: When did you realize you wanted to be a music conductor?
Alan Aurelia: I was student director of my High School Symphonic Band and conducted many community orchestras and bands, then having a successful career as an instrumentalist, I was offered my first professional conducting position in 1993 for a local NYC ballet company orchestra and have been conducting professionally ever since.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Are you still teaching in college? Did you also teach instrumentation?
Alan Aurelia: I was on the Music Faculty of three colleges and universities in NYC, now retired, I have private students and teach at a local Music Conservatory.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Which one is the opera you feel is the most rewarding for you as a conductor and why? And the most challenging one, if any?
Alan Aurelia: All operas are equally challenging. depending on the singers, production staff, directors you are working with because it all affects the music making.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What characteristics do you feel make a better orchestra conductor?
Alan Aurelia: Know the music well before first rehearsal and with a minimal gesture from one’s baton or hand, convey the composer’s musical ideas clearly, enabling thus the musicians to perform at their optimum ability. A good conductor is a good teacher as well as a learner and must show compassion for the orchestra and vocal musicians as well as dancers. Years and years of conducting helps to make better conductors  It took me ten years before I felt comfortable in front of an orchestra. Many orchestra boards today make the mistake of hiring the young “wunderkind” conductor and problems generally
ensue.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You directed orchestras from different nations. Have you found a different attitude among the orchestra members, as music interpretation goes? Do you feel that music is so universal as to flatten out ethnic and racial differences?
Alan Aurelia: My experience has been, whether conducting in the US or abroad, that if the conductor is sensitive to the musicians’ needs, mostly musical ones, they will perform well.

Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie with RCO

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Are there any new projects you are working on?
Alan Aurelia: I am always seeking to do more concerts for the public, as a guest conductor or taking the award-winning Richmond County Orchestra on tour.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you could meet anyone from the past or the present, who would he or she be? What would you like to ask them? What would you like to tell them?
Alan Aurelia: Wow, this is a hard one because there are so many people. But if I had to choose one it would be the conductor Arturo Toscanini and I’d ask him if he truly had a photographic memory.

 

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