Humans of the MET: “I had never played an opera before!”

by Katherine Anderson, violist

Violist Katherine Anderson recently discussed with hornist Hugo Valverde his first season at the Met, his upbringing in Costa Rica, and seeing snow for the first time.

Katherine Anderson: Where did you spend the early years of your life?

Hugo Valverde: I was born and raised in a small town called Buena Vista, in the province of Heredia, Costa Rica. 

KA: When and why did you decide to play the French horn?

HV: I started at the music school located in my hometown when I was six years old, and at seven I decided to learn how to play an instrument. At first, I said I wanted to play the tuba, but it was too big for me at that point; then I said saxophone, but they only had five instruments and all of them were taken by other kids. The coordinator of the music school said that they had a French horn, and was wondering if I was interested. I had no idea what the horn looked like, but I said yes!

KA: Where did you study music?

HV: From 2003 until 2008, I studied at the local school of music in my hometown. From 2008 until 2012, I was a regular student at the National Music Institute of Costa Rica. In 2012 I moved to Boca Raton, Florida, to start my bachelor’s degree in music performance at Lynn University, and I graduated in May 2016. In August of that same year, I started my master’s degree at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, located in Houston, Texas. I did one year there, and didn’t graduate because I won my current job at the Met in May, 2017.

KA: Wow, that’s an amazing thing to win an audition like that while in school! Had you ever played an opera?

HV: I had never played an opera before joining the Met! That was one of the reasons I was very scared prior to starting back in September.

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KA: What did you do to prepare before beginning in the MET Orchestra?

HV: As part of my preparation process before starting my pre-season with the MET Orchestra, I decided to visit Michelle Reed Baker, who is the former second horn of the MET Orchestra. She had the job I hold now for 27 years, which is very inspiring! I went to her house in Montclair, New Jersey, and we talked about how it was to play an opera for the first time at the Met. I was feeling very anxious and nervous, but spending time with her made me feel more relaxed and helped me have better expectations. It was one of the best things I did! She’s a wonderful person, and everyone loved her in the orchestra. It’s hard to replace someone who’s a lovely person and a great musician. That also put pressure on me because she left big shoes to fill!

KA: Yes, Michelle is a very special person and player! What was the most challenging opera you played this season?

HV: It’s kind of hard to say which was the most challenging for me because many of them were very difficult! I would say that Mozart operas are incredibly challenging for us horn players (and everyone!) because we’re playing almost during the entire opera and the type of writing is very delicate and difficult, but very simple at the same time. Our task is to make it sound easy!

KA: What are you looking forward to playing next season?

HV: The Ring Cycle! It will be my very first time playing it. I always enjoyed listening to excerpts, but now I will experience what it’s like to play the four operas in the pit, and with the MET Orchestra!

KA: What is your favorite part of living in NYC?

HV: All the contrasts that this city has to offer. Every single style, person, preference, and opinion is welcome here in NYC! Also, the restaurants and coffee shops. (I love coffee!) 

KA: Has your family come to visit?

HV: Yes, my parents and my two sisters came to visit - their first time in NYC! They came to see Tosca, Hansel and Gretel, Le Nozze di Figaro, Turandot, and The Merry Widow. They loved every part of their experience at the Met! 

KA: For a first visit, they saw a lot of opera! Did you take in any other NYC sights or experiences?

HV: We went to see almost all the attractions - the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central, 5th Avenue, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the High Line, Chelsea Market, Brooklyn, Dumbo, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. We tried to take advantage of every moment we had to make a trip somewhere!

We also all experienced one thing for the first time - seeing snow! In Costa Rica, we only see snow at the movie theater, or at home during the holiday season. It’s hard to get snow in the tropics, since it stays in between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year. (Not to brag about the perfect weather!) It was a blast for us! We spent about five hours outdoors that day! We will never forget that experience. 

KA: What will you be doing this summer?

HV: I will be doing some teaching and master classes at the University of Costa Rica and, of course, spending time with my family, then joining the Classical Tahoe Festival in Lake Tahoe. I will come back to Costa Rica once I’m done with the festival in Nevada in order to join the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica - we’re playing Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony!

KA: That sounds like a wonderful summer. Thanks for talking to me, Hugo, and welcome to the MET Orchestra!