Glass Marcano, the Orchestra conductor that Listens to Rap
Gustavo Dudamel’s fellow countrywoman is only 25, and is already conquering stages in Europe and America.
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“I remember a concert. We were in the state where I’m from, I was maybe 17, 18 years old. We were in the middle of a symphony full of great energy, and a lot of character, it was Shostakovich’s seventh symphony. The director was cueing the entrance to the trumpets; his face changed, it was very surprising, very shocking. It was the first time I saw that expression on his face. I kept staring. I remember when I got home I couldn’t stop imagining myself directing. Directing and making that gesture he made.” That is how Venezuelan Glass Marcano remembers her epiphany to leave the violin to the side and become and orchestra director.
Marcano is 25 years old and belongs to the small group of female conductors of the world. She has lived in Paris for a year, where she was awarded the prize “La Maestra”, the first orchestra direction contest for women, held by the Paris-Mozart Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Paris.
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about conducting an orchestra is a mature white man in a smoking, flinging his baton in the air while the musicians follow along. For centuries, it has been an excluding field for women, young people and people of color; however, this has been changing, and the contest in which Marcano was a participant is proof of that. Marcano competed with another 220 female conductors from all over the world, with a strong background and experience in Europe, the cradle of classical music; and made it to the semi-finals.
“I have never thought that because I am a woman I won’t be able to achieve something, maybe because I have a lot of attitude, character and confidence,” she explains. “But I have noticed that I’m often excluded not for being a woman, but for the color of my skin. It may be that in the world of classical music it is not frequent to find people of color, because our skin tone and our roots are associated to other music genres, something more popular,” she concludes.
Glass Marcano totally breaks the stereotype of an orchestra conductor. Also does her story. She started her musical education playing the violin when she was 6, “I think most of the times when a child enters the system to play an instrument it’s because they see there’s talent, in my case, I was very restless, and someone told my mom that classical music could help me be more calm. I think that it worked because I focused all my energy on how music was produced and how an instrument was played,” she points out.
Marcano belongs to Venezuela's National System of Children and Youth Orchestras, a music school that was created and founded by Maestro José Antonio Abreu in the 70’s, and since then it has offered education to more than a million disadvantaged kids and youngsters.
The renowned Symphonic Orchestra Simon Bolivar is a product of that System, which is formed by young people coming from the small orchestras in the neighborhoods and cities of Venezuela, and has even performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, another child of the System.
Dudamel is maybe the most outstanding musician from the schools created by Maestro Abreu.
In 2006, this Venezuelan man got to break down all conductor’s preconceptions. A young man, only 25, with his hair in the air, started to make his way to become the director of the biggest orchestras in the world. From Milan to Los Angeles, the world fell at his feet. Today, Dudamel is recognized as one of the best orchestra conductors in the world, and since September 2021, he is the new director of the Paris Opera.
Marcano made part of the Yaracuy Symphonic Orchestra and the Yaracuy Symphonic Orchestra for Youth, both of them a part of the National System of Orchestras. It was there where she found her true calling, at that Shostakovich’s concert. She started studying law, and orchestral conducting at night until in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, she ended up in the contest ‘La Maestra’ that took her to Paris.
Evidently, Dudamel is one the people whom she admires the most, and life gave her the chance to be in the same city as him. “Later, I met Gustavo Dudamel, the conductor that is becoming famous, and I think ‘wow’. I started to see videos, and everything had brought me to this moment, the school programs, the System, everything.”
Although both live in Barcelona now, they met in Paris. As a young person her age, Marcano is very active in social media, where she commented with great excitement on her encounter with Dudamel in March. “A great encounter for me. It made me so happy to meet him, maestro @gustavodudamel!! Thank you for so much passion, energy, and love for music,” she posted in Instagram.
“I’m with him, he has opened the doors for me, a person who is just starting her career. He welcomed me, and I’m super happy.” She continues to say that she has attended several rehearsals of the Venezuelan maestro with the Paris Opera, an opportunity like no other to see him in action.
“Glass Marcano listens to rap,” answers the Young director when asked what her favorite music is. “Before she comes out to scene I always see some freestyle o cockfights,” she says laughing. Freestyle and cockfights are improvisation styles very popular in rap, and they are characterized for not following a specific structure, something totally different from what happens when Glass gets up on stage to conduct.
If she wasn’t an orchestra conductor, she would be an actress or rapper. “Before I studied conducting, I wanted to go to the United States to study acting, and as a child I wanted to be a rapper,” she says. In a certain way, it is not odd that she had made her mind for conducting, after all, histrionic displays are not exactly unusual in conductors; their bodies are ultimately a conducting tool.
At the podium, Marcano brings out the actress within, takes her baton, and with elegance and strength, she takes the musicians note by note along the score. She knows that her figure does not fit the conventional, and she considers herself a conductor distant from being an academic “more urban,” she says. ¿Influence from rap?, for sure.
From the podium she directed the Symphonic Orchestra of Cartagena in the Concert "The Colors of Colombia,” during the Classical Music Festival of Cartagena, which was celebrated in the Caribbean city from January 4th to the 10th. Going to Cartagena to direct the Young people of the Symphonic Orchestra is of a special value, since she comes from a similar project.
The Orchestra is formed by young people who have been in Fundación Salvi’s education programs, the organizer of the Festival. Since 2016, the Foundation went on board along with other organizations, creating a musical education space for disadvantaged young people of Cartagena. “I believe these guys are very talented. When you have a soul and a technique, you can achieve big things; technique is important, but your spirit is crucial and they have it. And to me, that’s the key to success,” and she is an expert on that.