Timeline: A Conversation With Jaime Laredo
Jaime Laredo is a world-renowned violinist and conductor. I had a chance to speak with him via Zoom recently, as we are celebrating his 80th birthday and over 70 years of public performance. Jaime’s also served as the music director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra since the year 2000. It was announced in 2019 that he would be stepping down from that position and I asked Jaime what his feelings were about this change.
Jaime: First of all, it's been over 20 years and I can honestly say that it's been 20 of the happiest years that I've ever had. This was not just a professional relationship, but it was a real family relationship. I'll be very sad. I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss it a lot, but I honestly felt that it was time because 20 years is a long time and it's enough. I think any organization; any musical organization needs new blood and new ideas.
James: Looking back on his wonderful career, I asked Jaime in what ways the world of classical music has changed over the decades.
Jaime: In some ways it hasn't changed at all. In some ways, it's changed a lot. It's, of course, much, much bigger. When I say bigger, I'm talking about more orchestras, more auspices, more chamber music; especially more chamber music auspices. I mean, when I started out, sure, there was the Boston Symphony, and Philadelphia Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic, and Cleveland and Chicago, and then… that was kind of it. Smaller orchestras, like Baltimore, Denver; the level was nowhere what it is today.
James: As I spoke with Jaime, I was overwhelmed by his hopeful and optimistic take on where Classical music is today. Ever since I was a kid, I heard that Classical music was struggling even dying.
Jaime: I have a real pet peeve when people say, “Oh, classical music is dying, because the audiences are so old.” Well, I am about to turn 80, and since I was eight years old I've been going to concerts. Guess what, the audiences have always been old. It's not that the audiences are getting older. They have always been old. I am not worried that it's dying out. Believe me, it's not.
We played a concert at the Brattleboro Music Center. We were allowed to have 50 people. Well, I can tell you, you would have thought that there were 500 people in the audience because I never heard so many cheers, and whooping and all that. It was just such a feeling of joy and happiness of the people being there, and that's the way we felt on stage also as performers. So I think in many ways, this horrible, horrible pandemic that we've been living through is going to bring even more people into the concert halls, because people are starved for something live; something in person.
James: I asked Jaime what the future of Classical music looks like. His answer painted a picture of cultural diversity.
Jaime: I think that especially now that life is changing everywhere, that we're going to see many more students of color. You know, I was born in Bolivia, I was born in South America and my family immigrated to this country when I was seven years old. All the times that I was in school, I was a real anomaly, because there were no other Latin kids that were considered, you know, serious about classical music. And now, there's a lot, an awful lot.
James: Jaime makes that statement from his own observations. He’s been an educator for most of his life, currently serving as a professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music. When you speak to Jaime, you can hear and feel his passion for teaching.
Jaime: I've always found that probably the most important thing that I do is to teach and pass on to my students what I've learned my whole life. It's also something that keeps me very young. It's very rewarding and in many ways, the most rewarding thing what I've done in my life. I shouldn't say what I've “done,” because it's not over. I plan to teach until the day I die.
James: Thank you to Jaime Laredo for speaking with us and happy 80th birthday.
Learn more about Jaime Laredo’s career and artistry and follow the Timeline at VPR.org/timeline.