French composer Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” formed the prelude for Swedish conductor and master of art Kajsa Boström in Costa Rica. Those who were fortunate enough to enjoy the extraordinary performance organized by Alliance Française last year in the coffee town of Grecia, northwest of San José, were captivated not only by Boström’s elegant sovereignty but also by her dynamic precision and her way of communicating music through body and baton.
“No matter what others say after a performance, it’s me who has to be satisfied with my performance,” says Boström, 29, who conducted her first orchestra at the age of 15, and who makes clear how much she exacts from herself.
Born in Uppsala, Sweden, to a family of classical musicians, and granddaughter to the famous Swedish composer Ture Rangström, the conductor could never imagine a life not filled with music. In 1994, Boström won a soloist contest at the Academy of Music in Stockholm and received a scholarship for the Ostrava Conservatory in the Czech Republic, where she says she spent a rigorously Russian but very formative three years. Boström obtained her Master of Arts from the Art University at Graz, Austria, and became the first musician to receive appreciation by the Austrian Ministry of Science, Education and Culture.
Though Boström objects to phrases such as “maestra in high heels” and prefers to be seen as simply a conductor, a woman taking the podium stirs up a lot of attention.
According to Goethe-Institut Magazine, there are about 500 female conductors worldwide, and most of their activities remain in the realm of choir and church music. Fewer than 50 woman conductors are in leading positions, for example, conducting larger orchestras.
“In this profession, the power of men is still unbroken,” writes German Elke Manscha Blankenburg in her book “Dirigentinnen des 20. Jahrhunderts” (“Female Conductors of the 20th Century”).Manscha writes about a mythos dating back to the 19th century, when a maestro was considered someone to whom the orchestra dutifully submits, such as conductor legends Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan or Wilhelm Furtwängler.
But Boström says,“Your own musicianship is the focal point, not your gender,” which is indeed demonstrated by a number of famous woman conductors worldwide, such as Australian Simone Young, general manager and music director of the Hamburg State Opera and Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta of New York, who directs the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra; and fellow New Yorker Marin Alsop, recently appointed music director of the Baltimore Symphony.
Despite discussions about gender discrimination, Boström says that while she often expected to find resistance from male musicians, she found great support and opportunities to work professionally from the earliest stages of her studies.
“My favorite role is the spider in her web,” Boström says about her vision of conducting operas. “It’s a big difference to conduct a symphony right from the front and, what I prefer, to conduct an opera orchestra from the pit – being able to direct everything at the same time: musicians, choir, stage director and the theater group.”
In 2004, Boström initiated and co-founded Global-Opera-Go!, an association to promote cultural networks and projects with competitive standards.
“Our main focus is the production of operas and the supply and exchange of professional working methods,” says Austrian Thomas Krammer, director of Global-Opera-Go!, who brings more than 10 years of experience in design, technique and theater to the position. Krammer points out that the association also promotes young Costa Rican talent and creates long-term friendships, cooperation and exchange opportunities among European and Central American musicians and institutions.
With few performances in Costa Rica, the opera seems to be a stepchild within local classical music productions. The state Compañía Lírica Nacional stages only one opera production each year, such as Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in 2004 and Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” in 2005.
“Way too few to give consideration to so much young talent and those who love the opera,” comments dentist Randall Masís, singer, stage director and founder of Voce Viva, a Costa Rican association that aims to bring opera closer to the public and promote new talent.
Together with other private groups, Voce Viva has produced five operas. “More or less out of our own pockets,” Masís says, pointing out how difficult it is to get opera productions going without financial support from sponsors.
On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as well as San José’s title as 2006 Latin American-Iberian Culture Capital, Global-Opera-Go! and Voce Viva will co-produce the Central American debut of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” to be conducted by Boström. The premiere is scheduled for July 14.
Rehearsals started in December, when 30 singers were selected in four auditions. Sofía Corales, 19, who will perform the role of Susanna, is very enthusiastic.
“We are amazed,” she says. “Audition plans are completely new to us, as is the European way of working with Maestra Boström.”
Ticket proceeds from all five July performances will be donated to the Children’s Hospital in San José. The organizers emphasize this important social component and hope it might motivate more sponsors to support this unique opera project.
“As production resources are limited, we were lucky that the Austrian Embassy in Guatemala was among the first to confirm its financial support,” says Krammer, producer of “The Marriage of Figaro,” who adds he is optimistic that other local companies will follow this example.
Asked if there is a recipe a dynamic conductor can share with other young musicians, Boström answers: “Ambition and discipline might be the salt, and continual self-reflection and adjustment the pepper. But if you fill everything with love and follow your own special way, you might get just the right seasoning.”
For more information, contact Global- Opera-Go! at [email protected], 253-1075 or 873-2854.