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Ilyich Rivas doesn't need to open his mouth to speak. He is capable of communicating with only his eyes, facial expressions and hand gestures. On occasion, he may even close his eyes and rock to the side, shrug his shoulders in rhythm and smile the simplest, most genuine smile.
"One of the most important things is to be passionate. I enjoy conducting like nothing else. I want to enjoy every moment that I'm up there," says Rivas, a Peabody Institute student and the second Baltimore Symphony Orchestra-Peabody Conducting Fellow.
The 16-year-old appears to have complete control of every piece he conducts. He should - he's been practicing since he was 5 years old.
His father, Alejandro Rivas, most recently conducted the Metro State Symphony Orchestra in Denver after years of holding various positions across the country and in his native Venezuela. Alejandro left his post with the orchestra and his wife, Marjorie Carrero, left her job as a literature professor at the University of Denver and moved the family to Baltimore. Ilyich's 8-year-old twin sisters, Maria and Marie, are studying the cello at the Peabody Preparatory.
"My parents have always been supportive. Even when I was just waving my arms around in my living room, they would give me an audience and cultivate my interest," Ilyich says. "I would always go to my father's rehearsals - and that's when I realized that I could make a living doing what I loved."
Despite his early success under the tutelage of his father, Rivas has a desire to learn even more. He thirsts for experience with more major orchestras and perspective from other great conductors. That's why he moved to Baltimore to work with Marin Alsop, the music director of the BSO, and Gustav Meier, director of the graduate conducting program at Peabody.
"There aren't very many schools that have the resources that Peabody has. There aren't many that have a strong connection with a major symphony orchestra like the BSO. It's my relationship with Marin and Gustav that made me want to come and gain my experience here," Ilyich says.
Recently, Alsop invited Meier's conducting graduate students to work with the BSO during an early afternoon rehearsal at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Ilyich arrived early, entering through the back door in his leather jacket, casually sipping a soda from lunch. He was first to take the stage, baton in hand, to lead the first movement of Mahler's 4th Symphony.
Before the piece was complete, Alsop was already on her way to the front of the stage to critique Ilyich's performance. She told him to be careful not to pose, a running joke between teacher and pupil. One BSO musician said at one point Ilyich looked like a "teapot." Ilyich laughed.
"It's not a problem, it's a blessing. There is nothing like constructive criticism. I want to know as much about the music, as much about the composer, as much about the message as possible," Ilyich says.
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