Timeline: A Conversation with Jaime Laredo
Jaime Laredo is a world-renowned violinist and conductor. I had the chance to speak with him via Zoom recently, as we celebrate his 80th birthday and over 70 years of public performance. Jaime has also been the Music Director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra since 2000. It was announced in 2019 that he would be leaving this position and I asked Jaime what he thought of this change.
Jaime: First of all, it’s been over 20 years and I can honestly say it’s been 20 of the happiest years I’ve ever had. It wasn’t just a professional relationship, but it was a real family relationship. I will be very sad. I will miss it. I will miss it a lot, but I honestly felt that it was about time because 20 years is a long time and it is enough. I am thinking of any organization; any musical organization needs new blood and new ideas.
James: Thinking back on his wonderful career, I asked Jaime how the world of classical music has changed over the decades.
Jaime: In some ways it hasn’t changed at all. In some ways, that has changed a lot. It is, of course, much, much bigger. When I say bigger, I mean more orchestras, more auspices, more chamber music; especially more chamber music aids. I mean, when I started, of course, there was the Boston Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic, and Cleveland and Chicago, and then… it was kind of like that. Smaller orchestras, like Baltimore, Denver; the level was nowhere what it is today.
James: While chatting with Jaime, I was overwhelmed by his hopeful and optimistic view of the current state of classical music. Since I was a child I have heard that classical music has a hard time dying.
Jaime: I have a real pet peeve when people say, “Oh, classical music is dying, because audiences are so old. Well, I’m about to be 80, and since I was eight, I’ve been going to concerts. Guess what, audiences have always been old. It’s not that the audience is getting old. They have always been old. I’m not afraid it will go out. Believe me, this is not the case.
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 there were 500 people in the audience because I never heard so much cheering and screaming and stuff. It was just such a feeling of joy and happiness from people to be there, and that’s what we felt on stage as performers as well. So I think in a lot of ways this horrible, horrible pandemic that we’ve been through is going to bring even more people into concert halls, because people are starving for something live; something in person.
James: I asked Jaime what the future of classical music looks like. His response painted a picture of cultural diversity.
Jaime: I think especially now that life is changing everywhere, that we’re going to see a lot more students of color. You know, I was born in Bolivia, I was born in South America, and my family immigrated to that country when I was seven. Whenever I was in school I was a real anomaly, because there weren’t any other Latin kids who were considered, you know, serious about classical music. And now there are many, many.
James: Jaime makes this statement from his own observations. He was an educator for most of his life, currently a professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music. When you talk to Jaime, you can hear and feel his passion for teaching.
Jaime: I have always found that the most important thing I do is probably teach and pass on to my students what I have learned all my life. It’s also something that keeps me very young. It is very rewarding and in many ways the most rewarding thing of what I have done in my life. I shouldn’t say what I “did”, because it’s not over. I intend to teach until the day I die.
James: Thanks 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.