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Wielding a far-reaching baton.

"Excuse me for losing my train of thought. There's a report on television about an earthquake or some kind of disaster in Mexico. Just a minute, please." For the brief moment that I put my telephone interview on hold, the person on the other end of the line was not one of the world's most celebrated young symphony orchestra conductors but just another Mexican abroad concerned about the fate of his countrymen in the wake of a major calamity. As details of the breaking story unfolded on Enrique Diemecke's television screen, we both learned that it was not an earthquake but an explosion in Guadalajara's sewer system that had caused extensive loss of life and property. The story struck close to home.

Constantly in demand throughout the world as a guest conductor, Diemecke had recently visited Mexico's second largest city to conduct its symphony orchestra. At this moment, the maestro's thoughts were focused on the welfare of his musician colleagues and enthusiastic audiences that had made his appearance in Guadalajara so memorable. Injecting new vitality into the classical repertoire and nudging audiences to heightened levels of ecstasy have become Enrique Diemecke's stock in trade. From Guadalajara and other provincial Mexican cities to such farflung destinations as Auckland, New Zealand and Moscow, the 37-year-old Mexico City native is attracting the kind of attention usually reserved for pop music stars.

After a guest stint with the El Paso, Texas Symphony, a local newspaper reviewer gushed: "He's young, riveting, accessible, with dreamy azure eyes that disarm the stranger. That coupled with a head haloed in tight blond curls, Enrique Diemecke could easily be described in his own Mexican terminology as guapo." When pressed, he admits that girls gang up hoping for autographs. But Diemecke has little time for autograph seekers or the other trappings of his growing celebrity status. The workaholic musical director's professional schedule is as convoluted and hectic as some of the new music he encourages his orchestras to perform.

Since 1990, Diemecke has been Musical Director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, that country's most highly regarded classical aggregation. A complementary schedule allows him to hold the same post with the Flint Symphony Orchestra in Michigan. Increasing invitations to serve as a guest conductor with major orchestras in Europe and throughout North America have virtually wiped his calendar clean of any uncommitted time.

Diemecke is a member of an exclusive, worldwide club of less than a dozen young, up-and-coming musical directors who represent the next important generation of conductors. Within a decade or two, most will have ascended to the highly visible podiums of the world's greatest symphony orchestras, becoming as well known to the denizens of the classical music community as such super stars of the genre as Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa and Claudio Abbado are today.

"A conductor's career is a long career," notes Diemecke. "When you reach the age of 60, you reach the age of maturity. With musicians, sometimes the body cannot respond technically to what the mind wants it to do, and a string or horn player may have to retire. But a conductor can last a little longer, although perhaps he won't jump around as much on the podium as he did earlier in his career!"

Such longevity is what makes conducting different from virtually every other profession. It is not at all unusual to find conductors still at peak form well into their seventies or even eighties. The promise of becoming a living institution like maestros Leonard Slatkin, Mstislav Rostropovich or Maurice Abravanel - all famous conductors with whom Diemecke studied - is just part of the motivation behind the ambitious Mexican's dream. At the core of his artistic soul is a genuine passion for interpreting great music and a single-minded dedication to the classical tradition carefully nurtured by his musician parents.

His late father Emilio, a noted cellist and conductor who began his long professional career in Guatemala City, inherited a love of the European classical tradition from his Czechoslovakian/German background. His mother Carmen, of Spanish and French descent, is a highly regarded concert pianist and teacher, still active today as an instructor at the University of Guanajuato. Enrique was not the only one to benefit from the love of music that engulfed the Diemecke household. Today, every one of his five sisters and two brothers are involved in some aspect of music performance or instruction. Brother Pablo, the Concert Master of the Victoria, British Columbia Orchestra, also currently serves as the acting Concert Master for the Flint Symphony.

Enrique began to play the violin at the age of six. He later added the challenging french horn to his inventory of performing skills before deciding to pursue a career as a conductor. A bachelor of arts degree in violin performance and a masters in conducting, both earned at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., cemented his academic background. Enrique Diemecke was now ready for the fiercely competitive arena of orchestra conducting.

His first duties came with the fine provincial orchestra in Jalapa, a small mountain city between Veracruz and Mexico City. By the mid-1980s, he had secured a position as Principal Conductor of the National Opera Company of Mexico, where he led over 100 performances of 20 operas during a five year period. At the same time he was taking his baton on the road, doing guest conducting duties with orchestras in Beijing, Shanghai, Tashkent, Petrosavodk, Los Angeles, Chicago and Vermont. In the late 1980s Diemecke served for three years as the Resident Conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Assuming leadership of the fabled Mexican National Symphony in 1990 signaled that Enrique had truly arrived as a major conductor of international stature. The orchestra, which traces its history back to the early 1880s, reigns supreme from its home in the capital city's prestigious Palacio de Bellas Artes. Given its symbolic stature as the nation's official symphony, the National Orchestra crowns an impressive array of professional musical organizations, including five symphonies and a number of chamber orchestras in Mexico City alone and symphony orchestras in almost a dozen other cities throughout Mexico.

"Yes, we are a very cultural country," Diemecke explains with justifiable pride. And although he has a personal preference for composers of the European tradition such as Gustav Mahler, the conductor has fortified his reputation for promoting the national culture of his native land by performing and recording important works by Mexican composers.

"Carlos Chavez, the actual founder of today's National Symphony, wrote many works in the 1930s that expressed Mexican idioms well within the classical context," Diemecke explains. "That was our great period of nationalism. Chavez sought to incorporate elements of our folkloric music to give a meaningful Mexican flavor to our classical expression." The composer's complete symphonies, just recorded by the National Orchestra, give the world an excellent opportunity to experience the genius of both Chavez and Diemecke through brilliant CD reproduction.

"But recordings are just a snapshot - really just a photograph of an orchestra at one point in its life," the maestro states. "I prefer the experience of a live orchestra and an audience. There are so many variables. There's an electricity in that kind of setting that can produce absolutely extraordinary music."

Having ongoing associations with orchestras in two such culturally distinct countries as the U.S. and Mexico has led Diemecke to adapt his rehearsal and performance techniques. "In the U.S., discipline is very important and is strictly observed," he says. "In Mexico, the musicians are much more relaxed. They think that if they're not making a lot of noise, they're dead," he laughs.

Even the respective economies of the two countries can come into play. While Mexico's economy is now booming, places like Flint, Michigan are somewhat depressed. "My basic philosophy is that it's better to establish the ideal of quality as the most important aspect of an institution," he states. "That's the only thing that will allow us to carry on over any kind of disaster, economic or otherwise. You have to demonstrate that you are doing it not for money but because you love it. I'm very conservative. I build programs slowly. We don't want to make the mistake of going too far and then having to take a big step backward, as has happened in Mexico before."

Nevertheless, this year the National Orchestra has undertaken its most ambitious season ever. By year's end, the Orchestra will have toured several European countries with a complement of additional percussionists, fleshing out the ranks of the 112 member organization to better perform composer Chavez' "Sinfonia a India." "If we performed Mahler in Vienna, what would that prove?" he asks. "But doing our own music, that makes sense, because no one can do it better!"

Doing things better, and with a new attitude, is what Diemecke believes will keep the classical tradition fresh. "Many orchestras are losing their audiences because they do the same music year after year," he claims. "And yet other people won't go to the concert unless they see familiar names and titles on the program. So it's a tough challenge we face. We have to convince them that whatever it is we perform, it will be done with total dedication to quality. We have to get to the point where whether we do new songs or old songs it is us, the orchestra, that the audience really wants to see and hear."

Diemecke, whose name is pronounced at least ten different ways, including three variations in Czechoslovakia alone, believes his dedication to quality is the key to his future in the profession. "I do what I can every day to be a better conductor, to help make great orchestras whenever I'm in the role of a Musical Director."

So far, that formula has worked wonders. There's no reason to doubt that Enrique Diemecke will be back for many encores.

Mark Holston, a lifetime musician, writes about jazz and Latin music for a variety of publications.
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Title Annotation:Mexican orchestra conductor Enrique Diemecke
Author:Holston, Mark
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:May 1, 1992
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Next Article:El lado de la sombra (The Shadowy Side).

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