As the search for a new Vancouver Island Symphony artistic director continues, a new hopeful will step up to the podium this Saturday.
For the symphony’s fifth production in this year’s Variations series, titled ‘Winter Song,’ Cosette Justo Valdés will lead the orchestra as the guest conductor and latest candidate.
Valdés is currently the resident conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and has been with the orchestra since its 2018-19 season. She was also appointed as the music director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra in September.
Valdés said she first fell in love with “Canada’s paradise that is Vancouver Island” when she came to visit in 2020 and spent several months on the south Island.
She heard of the Vancouver Island Symphony’s position through a fellow musician in Edmonton, and said she knew she had to apply because it seemed perfect for so many reasons.
“For the quality of the musicians, for how wonderful they are, and for the location,” Valdés said.
Born and raised in Cuba, the conductor said she began learning piano and music theory at eight years old, but fell in love with conducting at 18 when she experienced a symphony orchestra for the first time.
“I grew up with a severe stutter,” Valdés said. “It was difficult for me to really focus in my piano career, and I didn’t pass one piano exam when I was 10 years old … At that point, I decided to study theory of music to become a musicologist or a professor. But my stutter was really, really bad.”
When she led a symphony participating at a music festival, it changed the trajectory of her life, she said.
“It saved my life because I wanted music again without much talking … The communication [in conducting] allows for spontaneous talking when you have the urge … it allows me to speak not as the point of attention, but as a way of reaching something else.”
Valdés said she believed VIS’ Winter Song perfectly complements the beauty of Vancouver Island.
“I find that this program has a lot to do with nature, just by the title itself … It’s just so much storytelling and mostly through nature,” she said.
The concert will also host guest mezzo-soprano singer Marion Newman. Coincidentally, Valdés and Newman spent a week in January working together on a short opera inspired by Thomas King’s novel Indians on Vacation and the conductor said she feels blessed to be sharing the stage with the singer again.
Newman will perform Jennifer Butler’s mezzo-soprano and strings commission and Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, and the concert will also include Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
“You can hear the fire crackling, you can hear the clear night sky, in the way [Butler] illustrates with the instruments – you really hear the setting. Which I totally love … The Chants d’Auvergne are really interesting because they’re basically written in French, but it’s a Spanish version of French – a totally different pronunciation. It’s really a pastoral setting,” Newman said.
Winter Song will be peformed at the Port Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 11, with a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. and the concert at 7 p.m. Ticket information on the show can be found online at www.porttheatre.com.
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