New conductor drawn to Henderson Symphony’s volunteer spirit

Something old, something new.

The old: the Henderson Symphony Orchestra, which begins its 30th season at Friday’s concert.

The new: the music director conducting the orchestra.

She’s Alexandra Arrieche, who was appointed last month following a yearlong search from among 64 applicants.

Friday’s free concert features music from three centuries, starting with “Gabriel’s Oboe,” from Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for the 1986 movie “The Mission.”

W.A. Mozart’s 1786 “Prague” Symphony No. 38 and Hector Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 round out the program.

The Villa-Lobos/Brazil connection takes on even more meaning because Arrieche herself hails from the South American nation — the southern part, which she describes as “completely different” from the popular image of “samba and carnival” associated with Rio de Janeiro.

“You feel it’s not Brazil,” Arrieche says of her birthplace during a pre-rehearsal interview at a Henderson coffee shop. “It’s much more related to Argentina and Uruguay.” (That may explain why Arrieche speaks Spanish as well as Portuguese — and fluent English.)

As a result, Southern Nevada’s triple-digit temperatures came as a definite shock.

Initially, Arrieche reasoned, ” ‘I’m from Brazil — I know what hot is,’ ” recalls Bethany Stone, the symphony’s director of operations. But after experiencing summer in Southern Nevada, however, Stone told her, “ ‘You’ll never say that again.’ “

Arrieche first conducted the Henderson Symphony Orchestra musicians in June, when the orchestra provided live accompaniment for the 1927 sci-fi classic “Metropolis.”

It was “one of the hardest concerts” Arrieche has conducted, she says, with almost two hours of music, nonstop, plus you have to sync with what is going on on-screen. “The orchestra has to be very flexible. We are human beings, not machines.”

Stone likens the process to running a marathon.

But “the orchestra was fantastic,” Arrieche says, noting that she felt at home as soon as she began leading the ensemble.

The musicians — virtually all volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 80 and beyond — “are making music because they love it,” Arrieche notes, “and that is truly beautiful.”

When Stone, a cellist who headed the search committee, surveyed her fellow orchestra members following the “Metropolis” concert, Arrieche was “at the top of the list at all levels,” she says of the music director candidates. “The orchestra obviously loved her.”

Yet conducting wasn’t an obvious — or an easy — choice for Arrieche, in part because “it’s impossible to learn conducting in Brazil,” she says, noting that she moved to the U.S. to study with conductor Harold Farberman.

“First of all, we don’t have the orchestras,” Arrieche says of Brazil, citing “four or five orchestras that play on a professional basis.”

In Brazil, “I think I wanted, but I never admitted” her goal of conducting, she says.

Before deciding to become a conductor, Arrieche “was writing, singing, playing — and everything seemed to be stuck,” she recalls. But as she assembled ensembles to perform her compositions, “I fell in love completely” with conducting. “One of my teachers, a choral conductor, he told me, ‘You should give it a try. You have the talent and the personality.’ “

That seems apparent at a recent Henderson Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, held in the band room at Greenspun Junior High School, as Arrieche works with the musicians on a section of Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, building the piece section by section — from violins to clarinets, trumpets to timpani.

“Move, move, move,” she instructs at one point, beating out a brisk rhythm with her baton. “Aha,” she adds after the next attempt. “Much better.”

At another pause, “keep the machine going,” Arrieche advises, noting “it’s kind of like at the gym” as she mimes weightlifting moves with a smile.

After Friday’s season-opening concert, Arrieche will travel to Belgium, where she was recently appointed principal conductor for Night of the Proms, an orchestra that plays a more pops-oriented repertoire on its European tours.

Arrieche is discussing the possibility of adding some pop repertoire to the Henderson Symphony’s programs, she notes. “For me, it’s a great experience to have an orchestra reach the community.”

Read more stories from Carol Cling at Contact her at and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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