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EXCLUSIVE: Miguel Vásquez on Panama, New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall and His Grandpa

By Lisa Helfer Elghazi on Aug 21, 2015 03:44 AM EDT

At the age of nine, Miguel Vásquez was an aspiring classical violinist/cellist in Panama. There on the isthmus, though, getting proper musical education proved difficult--especially as his skills improved. His grandfather, Luis Vásquez--a professional double bassist, guitarist and English horn player--first inspired the would-be musician. And years later, the younger Vásquez still remains thankful for the dutiful instruction provided by his elder.

But Miguel dreamed of studying music in the States; eventually, thanks to grants, scholarships and even a bit of judicious crowdfunding, he made that happen.

His first American studies came via the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mihail Jojatu, fourth chair in the Boston Symphony Orchestra cello section, was now his primary teacher. And as an undergrad, he performed under maestro (and Bard president) Leon Botstein's baton during a concert with Longy majors, Bard co-eds and the American Symphony Orchestra in New York.

Then, as a master's candidate in performance, Miguel was accepted into the prestigious cello studio just across the Charles River: that is, the New England Conservatory.

His teacher there in Boston? None other than Yeesun Kim, cellist, since 1989, of the illustrious Borromeo String Quartet.

Classicalite: Let's talk about your early years in Panama. How did they shape you as a musician?

Miguel Vásquez: I come from a family that was very involved with music, carried by the tradition left by my grandfather, Luis Vásquez. My early years as a musician started with the violin at the Escuela Juvenil de Música in Panama, under the guidance of Elena de Kitras. Later, around 13 or 14, I decided to switch to the cello, and I studied with Eusebio Dinza. Trying to get a proper music education in a country where these opportunities are very limited throughout the year made me very proactive about my music learning. The passion all the musicians who taught me in my early years motivated me to further pursue my career as a cellist. This motivation and drive has definitely made me the musician I am now.

CL: So, how did you end up coming to study at the New England Conservatory in Boston?

MV: I applied to New England Conservatory after having completed my undergraduate diploma at the Longy School of Music. It was my dream since a very early age to come study in the U.S. Specifically, in Boston--one of the most culturally rich cities in America.

CL: As a performer, a cellist, what is it about NEC in particular?

MV: My teacher, Yeesun Kim, the NEC orchestra and the amazing performance opportunities we have here.

CL: And would you say this conservatory approach has prepared you for a life as a musician?

MV: New England prepares you to become a highly professional musician in a challenging setting. You use all of your abilities to achieve the highest level of musical excellence.

CL: OK, who are your biggest musical and artistic inspirations?

MV: My grandfather and my first cello teacher. They have always been of great inspiration and admiration. Through my career, I've encountered many artists who have taught me so much about music making. I have learned about the dedication, discipline and passion that this profession requires.

CL: Where is your favorite place to perform? And why?

MV: My favorite place to perform is wherever people hear my music as a gift, and it transforms their lives the day they hear it. Home is a place where I feel a very deep and personal connection, and it is the place where I enjoy performing the most. In Boston, I love performing at Jordan Hall, although it can be intimidating. But it's such a beautiful venue with great acoustics.

CL: You'd recommend, then, coming to study cello at New England, to play in Jordan Hall?

MV: Definitely! If it is possible for someone to come to Boston to study music, New England is definitely the first option to consider because of its reputation, renowned faculty and performance opportunities for orchestra, chamber music, contemporary ensembles and jazz.

CL: Finally, any advice for the string students who have just arrived on NEC's campus?

MV: Take advantages of all the great things the school has to offer in your time here. Time flies!

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A, Miguel Vásquez, Longy School of Music, New England Conservatory, Jordan Hall, Yeesun Kim, Borromeo String Quartet