Wheelchair can’t hold back determined festival conductor | AspenTimes.com

Wheelchair can’t hold back determined festival conductor

Susannah LuthiSpecial to The Aspen Times

Aspen Music Festival alumnus Mario Sergio Miragliotta, confined to a wheelchair after a 2001 auto accident, returns to the festival today to conduct the Aspen Festival Orchestra. (Marc Edward Herris photo)

“It’s a different thing to conduct in a wheelchair,” concedes Mario Sergio Miragliotta, who makes a triumphant conducting return to Aspen today – his first appearance here in five years. “But it’s possible.”In June 2001, Miragliotta was on his way to Aspen to attend the American Academy of Conducting when he suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident. He had studied under David Zinman, Aspen Music Festival and School music director, just the year before, in the conducting academy’s inaugural season.”Apparently, everything below my neck is supposed to be paralyzed,” Miragliotta said. “It holds true – most of me is paralyzed.” But he undertook an intensive exercise program to bring back the endurance to conduct again.

“The moment I woke up in the hospital, I knew I would conduct again for some reason,” he said. “I kept in touch with David Zinman to the extent of letting him know that music did not die for me in the accident. I would go back no matter how long it would take.”Conducting, Miragliotta said, is a calling he has considered his own since the day he first heard a recording of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.””For some reason, I fell in love with that piece,” he recalled. “Just like any other conductor, you start pretending you’re conducting as you listen to a recording, then you look at the score. That’s where my passion started, and it has been growing from there.”

Miragliotta had come to the United States from his native Brazil, studying with the late conductor Sergiu Comissiona, who encouraged him to attend the Aspen festival. Since his accident, Miragliotta has stayed involved in the music world. Recently, he was appointed music director of Classics for Kids Philharmonic in San Diego, where he lives with his wife and 4-year-old son. And now, he marks his return to the Aspen Music Festival and School.”He was a very talented boy, and now he is struggling to actually conduct with a body that is unresponsive,” said Zinman of his former student. “The question for me was: Can one do this, and make it work? I saw a video of Mario conducting, and realized he can do it.”So Zinman invited Miragliotta to conduct a work on his Aspen Festival Orchestra concert program. Miragliotta describes the piece – Arthur Honegger’s “Pastoral d’été” – as “gorgeous,” but even better is the fact that he’ll be conducting.

“It’s a very, very big thing,” he said.Today’s performance in the Benedict Music Tent begins at 4 p.m. Zinman will conduct Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, following Miragliotta conducting the Honegger piece.