Vinay Parameswaran looks to his past to help guide his future as Cleveland Orchestra's new assistant conductor

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Vinay Parameswaran, the new assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, doesn't just have the right credentials on

CLEVELAND, Ohio - For a conducting job at the Cleveland Orchestra, Vinay Parameswaran is about as prepared as any one person can be.

It's not just that the new assistant conductor, a native of San Francisco, spent three years at the Nashville Symphony, attended school with several current Cleveland Orchestra members, or was recently a conducting fellow at Boston's Tanglewood Music Center.

No, it's that he's had vital hands-on experience doing everything the job entails, and takes a personal as well as professional interest in his duties.

"I was thrown into the fire immediately," said Parameswaran of his term in Nashville, from 2014 to 2017. "It was a pretty relentless schedule."

Certain of his jobs in Nashville Parameswaran had anticipated, and trained for: Working with guest conductors and soloists; Supporting music director Giancarlo Guerrero (the former principal guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra in Miami); Conducting subscription concerts.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. As he soon will be in Cleveland, Parameswaran in Nashville was also expected to lead pops programs, conduct concerts with film, and preside over community events.

All that stuff? "They don't teach you that at Curtis," Parameswaran said, referring to the Curtis Institute of Music, from which he graduated in 2014. "I really think Nashville was the perfect place for me to start."

With Parameswaran, "I was very impressed," added Brett Mitchell, Parameswaran's predecessor, now the music director of the Colorado Symphony. "Everything [about his training] seemed to be in place."

One element of his new post Parameswaran is specially prepared for: serving as director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO).

Not only has Parameswaran worked with high-school and college-age artists. He's been on the other side. From age 11 through high school, he was a percussionist in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. It was there, watching maestros navigate scores, that he fell in love with orchestras and the art of conducting.

"Those were formative years for me," Parameswaran said. "I really enjoyed watching conductors deal with all those pieces. I think that's what planted the kernel in my head, and it's why being with COYO is so meaningful."

Not that Parameswaran didn't briefly consider other careers. Along with music, he studied political science at Brown University, with the thought of one day attending law school. He also could have pursued percussion and his interest in contemporary music.

All such thoughts fell by the wayside, however, when he took up conducting at Brown and later worked at Curtis with famed conducting pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller.

"When you're exposed to that music at that age, it sticks with you," Parameswaran said. "I knew I had to be around music in some capacity."

That Parameswaran was exposed to classical music at all is a credit to his parents. Natives of Southern India, his mother and father never played Western instruments but saw to it their son studied piano, and later percussion, with the best in the Bay Area.

That's not all. After exposing their son to Western classical music, they then allowed him to pursue it professionally, recognizing its value and potential.

"At this level," Parameswaran said, Indian artists are still "hard to find."

But that situation is changing, he said. "People [in the Indian community] are finding that classical music is amazing and worth having in their lives. Also they're seeing that you can make a career out of it."

The Cleveland Orchestra in particular has long been on Parameswaran's radar. The conductor said some of the first recordings he ever heard were of Cleveland, with former directors George Szell and Christoph von Dohnanyi.

Neither is he truly new to the area. During college, Parameswaran said he spent a great deal of time in Northeast Ohio, visiting a former student at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Thus, upon being hired, he knew exactly where he wanted to settle: Cleveland's Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.

All that training and background is about to come in handy. If what Parameswaran underwent in Nashville was a trial by fire, his future in Cleveland is an all-out inferno.

In addition to COYO, Parameswaran is already slated to conduct education, pops, and outreach concerts. Beyond that, on the centennial season beginning this month, he'll have an exceptionally full plate as the orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Most travel the world and take on a slew of major projects including operas and the complete symphonies of Beethoven.

But he's not worried. Everything in his life to this point has led him here, and Parameswaran said he plans to savor it.

"Week in and week out," Parameswaran said, "one of the most attractive things [about being assistant conductor] is hearing the orchestra play standard repertoire at the very highest level."

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