What role does empathy play in your life? For Lina González-Granados, it’s a core value for daily living, as well as a musical superpower that’s been instilled in her artistic practice by more than one mentor.
On this episode of the HearTOGETHER Podcast, conductor Lina González-Granados joins host Tori Marchiony for a heartfelt interview about what it took to follow her dreams across the world, her status as a high profile Latina in classical music, and how the pandemic has shifted her priorities.
Music in this episode is from The Philadelphia Orchestra, 2021-22 (122nd Season), non-subscription concert #6
Mixed by Teng Chen
Editorial Council, Tim German & Noel Dior
TORI MARCHIONY (Voiceover): Hello! And welcome back to the HearTOGETHER Podcast from The Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m your host, Tori Marchiony. And this is a space to hear from the artists and activists working to create a more equitable future- inside and outside the concert hall.
The music you just heard in the intro was Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor, performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by our guest today, Lina González-Granados. In the 2020-21 season, she was a conducting fellow with The Philadelphia Orchestra. This year, she’ll take on a new role as conductor-in-residence of L.A. Opera.
A fitting accomplishment for one of the most sought-after conductors of her generation. Throughout her career, the Columbian-born Lina has earned a reputation for her thoughtful programming. In 2014, she founded Unitas Ensemble, dedicated to playing music by Latin American composers–her response to the major gap she saw in the Boston music scene while she was getting her master's at the New England Conservatory, and doctorate at BU. Lina tends to be a “take-the-bull-by-its-horns” kind of person, which made it particularly difficult for her to slow down when COVID hit.
LINA GONZALEZ GRANADOS: Eh, at the beginning, I was very desperate to keep up, you know, and eh, to keep my work up and that there was a moment that everything just froze in time and in, in life. And being able to just make decisions in a different fashion for your family, for your career, for everything. I feel like I aged at 10 years than when I was two years ago
TORI MARCHIONY (Voiceover):In early March of 2020, Lina and Philadelphia Orchestra assistant conductor Kensho Watanabe, were in the habit of connecting regularly, and quickly realized that they were uniquely positioned to help other conductors navigate the uncertainty of canceled concerts and social isolation. Together, they formed Conductors’ Collective, inviting their peers from all over the world to join intelligent conversations about their craft.
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: and we saw an opportunity to do something good and And that's how conductors collective was born. We were the very first like webinar that a appear for the pandemic. And we had people over 38 trees. So that was crazy when we saw like the need was, uh, so beyond anything that we could have imagined we had, I Reem I will never forget that there was this amazing conductor from Australia and our meetings were at 3:00 PM. So it was always 3:00 AM in Australia. And she would connect, you know, people from Africa, from Colombia and seeing that those, eh, at, at least for the time being the glass ceiling was out, there was no for us.
It was very important to make all this information accessible. The other thing that we wanted to create that was very different from other people, uh, is that, uh, with every guest, the contact was direct. You know, we, we facilitate the questions, but everybody was able to ask, for example, our music director, Yun, who actually was, uh, the person who came twice. Um, and they were able to ask him directly what he think about, uh, something about the subject. And it was, um, as much as we facilitated breaking that barrier, like we felt so C those to each other, eh, I think what made it successful, it was very natural. And it's, it's one of my, like, I think one of the proudest moments to be working with Kensho and be able to, to have those, eh, moments of bonding, it was very necessary.
TORI MARCHIONY: Wow. The last thing that I wanna ask you about the Conductor's Collective is the vision, which is to be the driving force towards establishing a new paradigm for organizational leadership rooted in empathy. And this theme of empathy came up everywhere in my research about you, it seems so central to who you are and how you, you do things. And I'm wondering, was there a particular experience that convinced you of the importance of empathy?
LINA GRANADOS GONZALEZ: There are maybe three things in my, in my career that drove me towards that a particular, uh, a strength I wanna say, because empathy always seeing us a soft skill is like one of the biggest strength that you can have in this business. I remember the first one being, I went to the last masterclass with Bernard Heiding, and I remember it was such a moment of growth for me. He was, he, he was like the first like big, uh, name or the big, uh, personality, a profound, like, you know, mentor that I consider and remember struggling a little bit with, uh, WC. I think it was WC. And he was giving a hard time, eh, but like never, um, never destructive. It was the first time that I was getting a hard time that it was very constructive. And I remember that we sat down together and, uh, he says like, I hope you learned something, you know, like, I hope you, you were like happy and comfortable.
And I said, my eyes to, sometimes I get very nervous. It was like, uh, like for me, for me trying to open and say, like, I, I had a hard time I'm at the beginning because I, I was very nervous and he said, I'm 90 years old. And I get nervous too. And for me, that was like the first time that I could feel like someone was connecting to, to the most intimate part of my main insecurities. And that used that to propel growth for me. So he was reading this anxiety and made me a better person. And when he said, you know, I get nervous too. And, and I made me mistakes and I'm like, how is this possible, this partner hiding? And then he just made a mistake. I remember like, it was Brams too. And he said, I'm sorry, let's do it one more time for me.
Again, he, he wouldn't say anything else. So assuming, assuming that he was human, doing it in the podium was something that marked me, because I remember my former teacher before, before a meeting with hiding, he was like, there is no room for me, mistake. If you're doing mistakes, you're not doing it. Right. And yes, there is a lot of pressure to do that. But when you're learning, it's very hard to frame, uh, to frame that, that energy, you know, it's it, it's, it's about the energy. So that was the first one, the second one, it was when I met in my doctor at my college teacher, who's Bramwell Tovy, and he was always so constructive. And he will always like, tell me, read the room, always introduce yourself and facilitate the hearing. You know, all of this was away like his philosophy and he's such a kind person, or the only thing that I saw, eh, while we were working was kindness and eh, fast forward to 19 20 19, eh, when I started working with Yannick and Yannick is one of the most empathic persons that I met. And he like, he anchored everything, like all of this that I'm telling you, like, eh, what Bramwell was teaching me, what I was learning with hiding was anchored by the kindness of Yannick. And eh, that was so profoundly transformative and mu music wise. So top, you know, the level was so high. And so top there was no controversy that, uh, both can coexist together. And that's how I decided to be in, you know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, it depends on the ensemble, but, um, making sure that I stay true to myself.
TORI MARCHIONY: Mm. It really strikes me that, like you said, we, we think about soft skills and empathy is, yeah. We take them for granted. And I think that in that they're sort of more feminine skills, like the, and it's explain to me that you got like permission or, or an example of the importance of that from three men.
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: Yes. And also because emotional intelligence is, uh, genderless, I'm obsessed with the Harbor business review. Uh, I read a lot of, of that, and there's a lot of reframing of empathy about CEOs that are impacts and how does that, uh, facilitate the work, the productivity together. So it's definitely being talk, uh, in a more co setting as, um, as a great asset to have. So in general, I mean, great, great. The greatest conductors are the ones that are able to bring that to the table. Very fast.
TORI MARCHIONY: I'm gonna ask you an unfair question and you can tell me no, the, your are not into it, but I'm thinking about how, as we embrace things like empathy in the C-suite and stuff like that, uh, the, the narratives about what is good and what is acceptable are changing. And we can some look backwards and go, oh, that thing that I would just have called a day at work was actually abusive or problematic. Do you look back on your earlier education in more traditional kind of harsh settings and feel like it was like abusive in some way? Do you feel like it was unnecessarily harsh or do you feel like it was of the time and you learned what you needed to learn? No,
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: I get what you mean how it goes. Oh, no. I, I think it was yes, abusive in some instances, uh, in some instances completely inappropriate and, uh, inappropriate, abusive, uh, borderline racist, depending on the country. You know, there are so many things that are so unnecessary in order for you to grow up. Uh, I do think that there has been a lot of healing and a lot of people have helped me heal. This is, um, a very personal journey. It's not that I tell them, Hey, you have healed me, but it, it has been with a lot of good music making with a lot of kindness that those, um, painful memories have stayed as memories. Sometimes they come, you know, and when they come, I just have to remind myself that trauma might something that you sometimes live with and you just have to, eh, you know, you learn how to, how to live with it and how to bring it sometimes artistically and how to not, eh, but yes, absolutely unnecessary every time that you treat someone, uh, less than their humanity, there is no need. You can learn any music without that. There are elements artistically that you can bring to like darkness dark of, I don't know, soul and the spirit that you need to, to come like, like actors, you know, that you have to learn that those memories, I necessarily don't think that those have to be believed personally in order to connect to them. And I hope people in the future don't have to, you know, I've seen a lot of change and I'm so pleased, but yes, it was terrible sometimes.
MUSIC: Glazunov: Concerto in E-flat major for Saxophone and String Orchestra, Op. 109 (13')
TORI MARCHIONY (Voiceover): That was an excerpt of Lina González-Granados conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra, featuring saxophonist Branford Marsalis, playing Glazunov’s Concerto in E-flat major.
TORI MARCHIONY: I wanna talk a bit about your upbringing. I googled your hometown, Cali, Columbia, but would still love to hear what your first-hand experience was growing up there in the late '80s in a house of doctors and engineers.
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: And I had a very happy childhood. I was a studying with, um, in an old girls school, very CA Catholic school, uh, very conservative. And I still have my friends, uh, to this day. We see each other. I told you, we met last year in Disney world and we had a great time together. Uh, so it was a very happy childhood. Uh, my parents made it, um, very easy for me to develop. We were very privileged in that sense. Uh, so I had access to a lot of things and I would say classical music is not the strongest suit and wasn't the strongest suit, uh, in the country at the time and in the city. But somehow I made it my own. And, uh, besides being exposed to all kinds of music, salsa, uh, music from the country, film music, rural music, urban music, rock pop in English, Spanish, uh, classical music. So it was a lot of things going on in my mind. It, I was very culturally exposed was even if I didn't have exposure whatsoever.
TORI MARCHIONY: Interesting. And, um, your parents seemed like they were on board with you pursuing this piano and then music conducting route, even though that was not their life. So was there ever a conversation of honey, are you sure? Or were they always pretty supportive?
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: Um, it, it came in waves. I think my dad has never wavered his support and he's, um, his conviction that I was taking the right path. Uh, and he was the first one who always encouraged me to do it. I'm not saying that my mom didn't, it's just that. I think my dad was, uh, it's a little more, um, aware or in touch with long term, like long term plans. So he could see that, see, he could see the end of the tunnel, even when I didn't, you know, so he, he never had a, a bad connection. My mom is someone, um, a little bit more on the short term and she, um, she's always thinking, okay, so what's next here. What's next here. So they always supported me. My mom, my mom would take me every day to piano lessons. She would pick me up and then take me in a taxi with her, with my food in the taxi.
I would eat in the taxi, go to the class, you know, because we didn't have a car or sometimes take me in a very, like very sunny day. She would, you know, blocks over block. So she, she devoted her life to, to me having options. Uh, but of course I'm a, I'm an only child. My parents, uh, are, uh, ed somehow because they, they, they have worked, they were middle class were able to make a life for themselves, um, which is not as normal, uh, in Colombia in that time, they, they were able to do something for myself. So my mom was worried about not giving me more opportunities. I mean, she was always trying to say, okay, eh, if I, if I have my way, you should study medicine and you'll have a pad you'll have already your job, you know, because nepotism kinda, you know, like things were more clear.
So my mom was always worried about how, how am I going to do this? Like me, myself without her helping me. So that's why their hesitations were there, but never, it was like, don't study music or don't study conducting. And actually, eh, I started my undergrad in, in Cali. And I remember there was, I think in the, in the first semester, I already knew that Cali was in the place that I could stay. And it was hard for my parents when I separated. Like when I, you know, um, when away from the house, because in Colombia, it's not like here in the states that you go to school and you stay on campus. No, you're like almost at home until like you get married or even, you know, like very, very late. So I remember trying to leave to Bogota until one day I sat with, I think that was the hardest thing that I've ever done.
So say, mom, I really, I really need to go because I'm never going to find anything here, you know? And then so they, so I went to Bogota and then I went to the first university and it was hard to, to get out of the house. Eh, so there was a moment that I was going to come back to Cali. I was like, I cannot do this. This is not for me. And my mom was like, oh, see, yes, come back. Like, we'll see, you know, and my, and my dad was the opposite. My dad is like, what are you doing? Like, you need to stay and see it true. And I was like, this, this university is not the place that I really want to be in. So he's like, well, change another college. So I was on my third college finding the right teacher. Can you imagine that? And they were like, okay, we, we really will do this. Um, we'll support you, but this is the last college that you can change. Like thirties are, are draw line. If you don't think you can make it with this, uh, you need to change careers. And I'm like, no, I can't do it. And then until I found my place, you know, I was like, I was relentless looking for that artistic output that I thought it was, uh, what I needed.
TORI MARCHIONY (Voiceover):That was an excerpt of Fantasia, for saxophone and orchestra. Written by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra, featuring Branford Marsalis on saxophone and conducted by Lina González-Granados.
MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Fantasia, for saxophone and orchestra (14')
TORI MARCHIONY: You are very much a champion of your culture, and have been recognized as a leading Latina voice. In 2016, you were recognized as one of the "Latino 30 Under 30" by El Mundo Newspaper. Then in 2021, you won the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, and Hola Magazine named you one of the top 100 Latina Powerhouses. So, I guess what I’m wondering is…was wearing that mantel of your heritage a natural position to take or was it a box that you got put into? Or maybe a little of both.
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: I think it's both. The first thing is that, uh, throughout the beginnings of my, of my musical output, as I told you in Cali, I was exposed to all kinds of music. Eh, classical music was only one of the music that I was exposed to. And I was playing, you know, I was playing everything, uh, Colombian music in the piano, all of this. And my mom actually got me. I remember, uh, very early. I think I was 15. She got me a teacher who would do like my, his own arrangements. And he would com do compositions. And for example, I would say, Hey, I wanna learn something from the back street boys. And the next day you would, he would bring me levels of music, you know, like really well done. So it has, it was always, and in Latin America in general, uh, as much as we study a lot of classical music, um, there is a sense of, uh, below, uh, identity and trying to get this music also in a repertoires, you know, so it was, it was something that was already, uh, on my, on my doing artistic, artistic output, Colombian music, Latin American music.
Now, the first time I, I felt like a minority was when I moved to the states. That was not the way that I was brought to. I was raised as the, my, the majority in my country. So I never felt like a minority until I came here. And it was clear to me that people look at me like that it wasn't me looking myself like, oh, I am a minority, but it's not like, it was more like you are this, this is what you are. This is where you belong. You are a minority, and this is how far you can and get, you know, that, that was, that, that is a very, uh, American thing. And, um, in that sense, uh, then all this work that I've been doing as a, uh, like artistically that it's so innate to my bringing becomes something that, uh, is champion as, as that. And then I took, and then I, as when I saw myself into this pool of, of, I don't know of musicians and they see me as that, I just said, okay, so, definitely this is not an, uh, people don't even like, are like, are, are thinking in this. So I should be like, if nobody's thinking for me, who's gonna do it, you know? Uh, so someone has to do it. And that's how I started, uh, doing a advocacy. And not only it, because I'm not the only one, definitely, uh, just joining energies with these people who are also have been doing it for the longest time and just getting to know them.
TORI MARCHIONY:Oh, um, I'm curious, cuz you you've talked about at being at a point in career now where you can just kind of say no to some things. And I'm, I'm wondering if there are, when there are offers that come in that are particularly tokenizing, like another de de Los Moretto concert for example, if in your declining, you take the time to educate them, or not?
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: Talking about tokenizing. I have always said no to like, even when I didn't have a opportunities, that was something that I was very strong-willed to say no to. And, uh, because, um, everything that I program, even when it's, um, a strong part of my identity, it comes from a very deep study of the score or like a very deep thought of like intellectual of programming. So I've never had the like, if, if it doesn't come from that side, I, I said, no. I've had had a few opportunities, um, to educate people as you told me because, um, when, because I have a manager, so I tell, I tell him no straight and he already knows. Um, but when I get the opportunity, I, I don't waste it.
TORI MARCHIONY: Mm. Do you feel like you have to prepare yourself for those kinds of, to, to speak in those ways? Do you get nervous or tongue tired of where that you're gonna say the wrong thing or yeah. How do you make sure that you're taking advantage of those moments? The best way that you can, without it becoming like your full-time job to have to think about how to say these things?
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: It depends on the people like I don't, uh, you know, like there's battles that I don't think, uh, it, uh, I, I will, I will win or there is arguments that I don't think are meant to be the, uh, having. So it, you know, there is that there is a person that there is a space to grow. You can safely talk, but if something that doesn't, it's not worth it because there's definitely, there's people that it's not ready to, to be on the other side. And listen, you know, there's a lot of, a lot of people who just wants to be talked and approved and pray. So I just, I don't wanna say that I played the game. It's just that I move on. I just like move forward and it com it's completely relevant. Not everyone wants to learn. So trying to, trying to reconciliate that is, um, it has been a very, um, humbling experience, especially here in America.
TORI MARCHIONY: Yeah. And, uh, tell me about what you're looking forward to in the next year, got a big year coming up. What, uh, and even personally, or professionally, like if there's a vacation, you're excited about that fair game, but
LINA GONZALEZ-GRANADOS: You know, um, I used to be a, a planner in a lot of, uh, like I would plan like my, my life or I would dream about it two years, five years. But, um, I stopped doing that because I'm trying to take a lot of, um, like I'm trying to learn how to live in the moment, a little more fully. I am looking forward to, to find those times to spend with my husband a little bit, me bit more, eh, vacation. I think I'm taking, it's not a vacation per se, but I'm taking a July like a break in July to take care of a are personal things. And I'm planning to maybe have a baby. And I say maybe because you never know how those things turned. So, uh, in the next couple of years, uh, my, my family's taking more, more priority in that sense and that involved with, eh, starting my new job in LA, which I'm going to do opening night next season, which is a huge thing. And eh, getting, getting those experience together, like for me every day, every concert now is a debut. So every week is like, it comes with that, um, looking forwardness. And that's why, I mean, this, this next five weeks are going to be crazy. I'm going to do like five concerts, five different countries, eh, five different reps, eh, and it's a life. So just trying leave fully, whatever comes at me.
TORI MARCHIONY (VOICEOVER): Cheers to good things coming her way. Lina debuts as conductor-in-residence with L.A. Opera this fall. Many thanks to her for making time to speak with us and thank YOU, so much, for listening to the HearTOGETHER Podcast from The Philadelphia Orchestra- if you liked this episode please be sure like, subscribe, rate, review, comment, and share with your friends. I’m Tori Marchiony, and we’ll be back next month with more stories about music, social justice, and all the life in between. Please enjoy some more of Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor, Op. 44, as we exit. Till next time….