“We are going for improvement in the quality of musical education”: Silvia Navarrete, interim director of the National Conservatory of Music

On September 8, Silvia Navarrete, a pianist who is part of the French Order of Arts and Letters and winner of the Coatlicue Prize in 2009, was officially appointed interim director of the National Conservatory of Music, one of the most important institutions in her type in Latin America.

Navarrete takes the position to lead a community of 1,900 students, after days of tension. A month ago, after the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL) appointed the teacher Patricio Méndez as director of the Conservatory, students made complaint lines accusing him of sexual harassment and psychological violence, to later start two work stoppages the last week of August. In cases like this, there are complaint protocols established by INBAL, whose first link is an Ethics Committee that evaluates them.

However, the community refused to use the protocols, arguing that the Committee did not protect the anonymity of the victims. Without following protocol and without a single formal complaint, on September 2, Méndez declined her appointment to make way for her colleague as interim director.

Read more: “After what we have experienced, we Latin Americans want peace, we know that war is useless”: Laura Restrepo

In an interview, Silvia Navarrete talks about the challenges and priorities at the head of an institution as important as the National Conservatory of Music.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to achieving dialogue with the community?

We haven’t started talks yet, but I don’t see any obstacles. Respect for Human Rights and the vindication of women’s rights are very important.

Do you believe that justice should be punitive or restorative?

Obviously we all have the idea that justice should be restorative. Although there are also cases where it must be punitive: a psychopath, for example, someone who has no remedy, requires other types of channels. I believe that normally justice should be restorative.

Do you come with the intention of appeasing the students or reaching consensus?

You don’t have to slow down anything. You have to establish the limits well, the rules for a better coexistence. It is necessary to update teachers in pedagogical issues so that they have a more positive way of teaching. My generation endured tremendous scolding and insults, but that was common. It is something that has been dragging since teaching in the nineteenth century.

What do you think about the fact that they did not want to use the means of denunciation of the INBAL?

Teachers and students are receiving from INBAL the message in which they indicate that there are channels for any type of complaint or outrage that may occur. There are things that must be taken through legal channels, that’s why we have laws, complaint channels, why didn’t they do it that way? I don’t know, I can’t give an opinion yet.

Do you think Patricio Méndez was wrong to resign?

I do not know in depth what the situation of teacher Patricio Méndez was. I find it sad how it all happened. I think the legal channels should have been followed.

I understand that you already have a short-term diagnosis from the Conservatory

There is a very short-term diagnosis of the status of the National Conservatory of Music. I’m just looking very carefully at everything we have; although for a long time, the director of Fine Arts and myself, without having any other intention, were making a diagnosis of the needs of the property, which is a protected property.

We come from confinement and everything deteriorates a little more when it is not being used. Already two years spent in the building are enough, without forgetting that the constructions of the architect Mario Pani were made to last for many years, the materials are very well thought out, but in any case there is a lot of maintenance to do. We already started with some things; we hope to be able to continue maintenance and modernization with the new budget.

What are your goals in academic terms?

We are in a consensus that will go to the academy, seeing what the needs and proposals of all are in order to have an agreement to improve the quality of teaching. We have study plans that the former director, Dr. David Rodríguez de la Peña, had already advanced. There are a thousand issues that I am attending to, one by one, calmly and rigorously. But perhaps the most important thing, because with this you can do anything, is to try to raise funds. They give us an annual budget, but with the pandemic everything has been severely punished, more resources are always needed, especially in a building the size of this one. The pianos, the instruments, already have many years of use. We are planning to get the resources to buy new ones, fix the ones we have.

Regarding the infrastructure, what changes will be applied specifically?

In the Silvestre Revueltas auditorium there are some murals by José Clemente Orozco that need to be cleaned, maintained by CENCROPAM (there is no serious damage), changed seats, mats. We are making a list of priorities to change everything that needs to be changed. In the open-air auditorium we are going to put up the stands. Whether we put a candle or benches. One plan is to have a network throughout the building so that all young people can consult scores digitally. The walls of the building are very thick walls, so we have to do a preliminary study that we have already started.

Although you are on an interim basis, how are you going to land the improvement plan?

Before the pandemic, we had already scheduled a series of chamber music concerts in the Beethoven Year to raise funds. The first was at the end of March 2020 and on the 19th everything closed due to confinement. Since then we have been with a kind of diagnosis, without there being a specific interest in directing. He was only looking for better working conditions. We intend to raise funds with chamber music concerts. There is a long-term plan for me or someone else to carry out to improve the quality of teaching. We want to raise the performance level of students.

What are your lines of action with other institutions?

We want to have more contact with institutions from other parts of the world, through embassies or through the directors themselves, to have exchanges and enrich our level. For us it is very important to contribute everything we have. This world is smaller, we are all connected.

We also want to achieve multidisciplinary networks. For this, we have to improve communication with the other schools that belong to the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature —schools for beginners, dance, theater— in order to combine and present events, concerts, plays, operas, taking advantage of the art schools and having an interaction with each other. I believe that we can all enrich ourselves: those of theater, having live music; us, with actors in opera stagings, for example.

Something very important for me, as a researcher, is the library. For many years I have been in a task of rescuing our piano music heritage. The library is essential and has been sidelined, although two years ago the music of the 19th century was cataloged from the reserved collection. But everything still needs to be cataloged and digitized. The boys no longer bring sheet music, they bring iPads. I was in charge of the piano part of the Master of Mexican Music. It is the first postgraduate degree achieved at the conservatory. There is infinite what to do. Many Mexican composers of the 20th century stayed that way, without further ado. If the music is not performed, it is not played, because it does not exist. Recovering the heritage of music from the colonial era to the present day is a gigantic task that encompasses both recovery on a physical level, digitization, and making it sound. The boys of the Mexican music master’s degree have recovered many works. We have a treasure and a task that will never end.

What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to other institutions?

If we compare ourselves with conservatories like the one in Moscow, we are at a disadvantage. But we just want to get closer to them, and to other conservatories with a great production of musicians of the highest level, to learn about their study plans, their collections. In such a scenario, we are at a disadvantage. But if we talk about talent, Mexico has plenty. We are a country of talent, musical. It is important to develop that potential. The goal is for everyone on this campus to achieve excellence in music. We are interested in updating and modernizing the study plans. And that, from this, teachers have an increasingly better level of education, with master classes, conferences, courses and very well structured work systems.

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“We are going for improvement in the quality of musical education”: Silvia Navarrete, interim director of the National Conservatory of Music