Dialogue 18 | Orchestra conductor Santiago J. Otero Vela

‘Es el arte más intangible pero a su vez, el que es capaz de llegar más profundamente a nuestra alma’.

Santiago J. Otero Vela

Santiago Jesús Otero Vela was born in Málaga (Spain), where he studied piano, trombone and percussion. Despite his extensive instrumental training, conducting has always been his strongest vocation, in which he has focused all of his efforts by always searching for a distinctive value and the highest interpretative and technical quality. 

Interviewer: Klaudia Chzhu

Hola, Santiago! Could you tell us please how you were introduced to music. Why you started to play piano and who influenced you?

Hi! Well, from a very young age I was surrounded by music. My family, although no one was dedicated to it, has always been very fond of it. Groups like Queen, The Beatles or Mecano and singers like Leonard Cohen or Cat Stevens among others, are part of the soundtrack of my childhood. But my clear influence on classical music comes from my paternal grandfather, a great music lover. Every time he went to his house, he always had something of the genre in the background. Of my first memories is listening Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 or one of Mozart’s most renowned symphonies: # 25, #40 or # 41. That music was of great impact to me.

Perhaps this, in addition to his insistence that I should be involved in the field of music, were decisive for me to start piano studies at the Conservatory of my neighborhood at the age of 8.

What does music mean to you?

Music is the fullest way that can exist to express everything that goes beyond words: emotions, sensations, feelings that go beyond all that is visible. It is a passion, it is a love, it is a tragedy, it is a party, it is an apotheosis, it is a prayer, it is a dramaIt is the most intangible art but at the same time, the one that is capable of reaching more deeply into our soul.

As a director, I believe that the ultimate goal of my profession is to understand and give meaning to each work, faithfully respecting the composer’s ultimate intention and maximizing the rhetoric.

Why you decided to become a conductor?

I have a very old memory, when I was 10 years old I attended my first concert of a symphony orchestra. It was in my city and it was a didactic program in which Benjamin Britten’s “Orchestra Guide for Young People” was performed. A work full of timbral contrasts, shades, colors … that was like looking out of a window and suddenly being blinded by the brightness of the sun. That impact was deeply marked in me and accompanied me throughout the initial formative stage. So when I advanced in my studies and it was time to decide which branch to specialize in for a higher degree, I had no doubts.

What is true is that a turning point occurs when I meet and begin to study with who I consider my true Teacher and mentor: Miguel Romea. With him I discovered and found a totally natural way of seeing music, devoid of artifice, with maximum depth and analytical capacity; which makes me feel totally identified and for which since then I take as a starting point each of the times in which I face a first-rate score.

From then until now I have had the opportunity and the luck to take advice and live numerous experiences with orchestras throughout Spain and Europe, with teachers of the stature of Andrés Salado, Pablo Heras- Casado, Karel – Mark Chichon, or my current Professor at the Miguel Etchegoncelay Conservatory of Strasbourg and with the clear conviction that in parallel to concert activity, training and study must continue to be an indispensable pillar in my day-to-day life.

Santiago, we would love to know your favorite symphony, or any other composition. And why?

Keeping one in itself is very complex. I could recommend that you feel the fullness that the constructions of Renaissance vocal music evoke, such as the Responsories of Darkness by Tomás Luis de Victoria or that you feel the experience of extreme beauty in any baroque oratory, such as the St Matthew Passion by Bach.

Santiago J. Otero Vela

But of the entire symphonic catalog, I would stick with Beethoven’s 7th symphony in A Major. It is the most vital, energetic, luminous symphony and in turn in the second movement, it completely changes the character to become a cry torn from the soul before its destiny. In it all the states of the soul coexist. It is a ravishing music and incapable of leaving you indifferent.

We can’t miss the question about Covid and how it affected live performance. How did Covid affect your activity? What obstacles have you faced?

Obviously it has affected the situation generated by the pandemic and I fear that not only will it take time to recover, but when we do, it will be very difficult to return to all the concert and interpretive “normality” that we had before March ’20.

In my case, being the director of the Malaga University Choir and the Malaga Camerata ensemble, working with these groups has not been possible with the desired continuity of work, with continuous interruptions due to mobility and meeting restrictions. The general rehearsals, so important for this type of training, have been very small in number and members. Little by little and despite all these handicaps we have tried to be active as long as possible.

Throughout the second quarter of 2021, certain concerts that had been planned for the beginning of this year but that the increase in infections caused them to be postponed will be recovered.

Of course, it is convenient to always remember that theaters and concert halls are safe places. From here I take the opportunity to invite people who have no fear or qualms about attending any cultural event. We need culture now, more than ever.

Could you share with us your current or planned projects?

As I said before, the priority is to resume the concerts that had been planned for previous months and make them take place as planned. Looking ahead to September I have my debut in Poland closed, leading the Lutowlaski Chamber Orchestra de Lomza and for the last quarter of the year by the hand of the Spanish stage director Marta Eguilior I will be in charge, in Madrid, of musical direction of a opera on the life of the French sculptor Camille Claudel. In addition to all this, and if the pandemic allows it, I will finish my studies over the next course in Strasbourg.

It was an amazing story! Thank you dear Santiago!

Oratorio de Noël – Prelude (C. Saint- Säens)
Malaga Camerata Concierto extraordinario en la Catedral de Málaga junto al Coro de la Universidad de Málaga
Diciembre 2018
Grabación realizada por RTV Canal Málaga

You can contact Santiago through mail: info@santiagojesusotero.com

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