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Orchestra director risked uncertainty for passion

By Katie M. Taylor
On December 7, 2012

Members of the Miami University Symphony Orchestra wait as their conductor Ricardo Averbach walks to the center of the Hall Auditorium stage. As his hands rise, the strings begin to sing, and music floats into the audience.

The Miami University Symphony Orchestra (MUSO) performed its last concert of the year Wednesday, Dec. 5 under the instruction of Averbach, a man who has dedicated himself to music.

Born in Brazil, Averbach spent the first part of his life there working as an engineer, though he knew his passion lay elsewhere.

"I think [the passion for music] was there, but it was sleeping inside me," Averbach said. "In Brazil, people with a background similar to mine tend to go to sciences and study engineering, business administration, medicine and careers like that."

According to Averbach, it wasn't until he was faced with a huge decision at around the age of 23 that he chose to instead follow his love for music, despite discouragement from his friends and family.

"In Brazil I received a full scholarship to get an MBA in Harvard," Averbach said. "That was the moment that I had to make a decision; I left everything," Averbach said. "People thought that it was crazy on my part to leave a career that was sure."

Averbach traveled to Bulgaria to study music in a prestigious school, which required him playing piano in front of a committee to be accepted. He said this was one of the biggest challenges-having to compete with 'little geniuses' who had played piano all their lives.

"After working like crazy I went through that committee and they were very reluctant to accept me," Averbach said. "But there was one professor in that group who said 'no, we are going to take him and I'm going to give him private lessons and he's going to be fine'."

This man, Bentsion Eliezer, gave Averbach free lessons for years. According to Averbach, Eliezer's guidance made it possible for him to get into the conducting school of his dreams, and the man asked for nothing in return.

According to Averbach, his teacher passed away of cancer years ago, but it was running into his wife in Bulgaria two weeks ago that prompted him to dedicate Wednesday's concert to her husband. Averbach said that though he had to remove his original words from the program, in his heart he still dedicated the performance to his teacher, whom he thanks for much of his success.

After years of studying music and conducting in Bulgaria, Averbach graduated on to work around the world with famous musicians and orchestras including the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

At the age of 34 he came to America and earned a DMA at the University of Michigan, worked with the Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble, and came to Miami.

Averbach said this is his 11th year here, and he is currently Director of Orchestral Studies, which involves him conducting MUSO as well as the Oxford Chamber Orchestra (OCO), which plays in Miami's annual opera productions.

According to Averbach, the orchestra at Miami has continuously grown over the 11 years he has been here.

"I am proud that this year we have I believe the largest orchestra that Miami has ever had, and we have a very talented group of players," Averbach said.

This year MUSO played at Carnegie Hall, and OCO has been invited to play in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Averbach praised his students, and said this is only beginning for them.

"People were very excited about Carnegie Hall," Averbach said. "I am very proud that we are keeping up with all the excitement and not letting it die after Carnegie Hall, on the contrary, we are carrying this through the future."

According to Andrea Ridilla, Averbach's colleague in the music department, in working on various projects with him she has come to recognize his uncompromising standards, which he holds himself and his students to.

"He demands professional perfectionism," Ridilla said. "He demands this of the students, and sometimes I think they're not quite experienced enough to realize how lucky they are that somebody is bringing them to such a high level."

However, according to first-year Luke Bryson who plays the Oboe in MUSO, he recognizes Averbach as an outstanding maestro. Starting with him inviting members of the orchestra to his home at the beginning of the year, Averbach continues to impress, Bryson said.

"He's so far been a fantastic orchestra director," Bryson said. "He shows not only great leadership with us, but also such a strong passion for the music we play, and he programs such wonderful music too."

Averbach expressed his excitement for the music MUSO and OCO play, and thanked past teachers and musicians for opening his eyes and showing him what music could be.

"They were able to teach students how to achieve certain things that, in principle, cannot be achieved with a piano as an instrument ... to achieve something in the performance that transcends the possibilities of an instrument," Averbach said. "They made me believe that it was possible to do that, and I know now that it is."

Averbach said that one of his biggest goals in life-possibly the biggest-is to write something that conveys to his students and others the beauty in music he has come to see through the people who have influenced him.

"We are in a university, you know, and we think that things should be able to be explained through logic, but [music] transcends logic," Averbach said. "You are able to manipulate time; you are able to see music through space. This was something so influential-it really took me years to understand."

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