The ‘finest city’ welcomes a humble conductor
By Margie M. Palmer
If you’re a fan of the arts, you’ve likely heard the San Diego Symphony has announced the appointment of Sameer Patel as its new assistant conductor; if you were lucky enough to experience the symphony’s surprise concert this year at Comic-Con, you would have experienced his premier performance.
In a recent interview, San Diego Downtown News discovered the man behind the baton is as humble as he is sincere and that his passion for music is part of his lifeblood.
Patel, a Michigan native, said his love of music began early on; he was quite privileged to have music lessons be part of his youth.
“My parents saw playing an instrument as being important, which is why they enrolled me in piano lessons and playing in the band at school,” Patel said. “I’m very lucky, because I had really excellent teachers.”
It wasn’t until he got to high school that he realized he wanted to actually pursue a career in music. That’s when he realized he had a passion for conducting.
“I was drawn to the leadership aspect of it,” he said. “I had a great band director in high school who had this way of inspiring all the students; I could tell from his work that so much of his time was spent in preparation. That’s what fascinated me —what goes on before rehearsal starts.”
Patel also pointed out that there was plenty of music he hadn’t been exposed to, which often happens when someone grows up in a small town. That teacher, he said, is the one who first exposed him to the world of classical music.
“He really nurtured my interest,” Patel said. “He let me borrow recordings and would talk to me about it. Playing an instrument and at the same time developing a passion for the art — that was beyond anything I knew or had contact with — that’s how I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music.”
Since then he’s grown to become one of America’s most exciting conductors. Before coming to San Diego, Patel served for three seasons as Associate Conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, where he conducted the orchestra in over 100 performances. In 2013, Patel was one of only six conductors selected by the League of American Orchestras for the Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, an event that showcases emerging and talented conductors to orchestra industry professionals.
Despite his impressive resume, the most memorable moments of his career are drawn from the heart.
Several years ago he worked with the El Sistema movement in Venezuela. The organization, he said, has trained hundreds of thousands of mostly poor kids in classical music.
“It gives them an opportunity to learn to play an instrument for free,” he said. “I went with a conductor from Boston and we spent two weeks going into the barrios and got to work with the littlest children who were first learning to play an instrument or sing — I really got to see first-hand that music is a universal language.”
“The fans’ reaction to that was so sincere and you could see how much the music has meant to them,” he said. “It sent chills down my spine.
“The musicians couldn’t help but feel that energy on stage; most of us aren’t part of these types of events,” he continued. “After the concert was finished, when I left the stage I heard something, it sounded like the audience was chanting. I realized they were chanting ‘thank you.’ It was a huge privilege to be a part of that.”
Patel said that in addition to working with the San Diego Symphony, he and his wife have taken some time to enjoy some of the simpler aspects of what America’s Finest City has to offer.
When they relocated, they chose to make their home in Bankers Hill. It’s been a good fit, he said, especially since it’s so close to Balboa Park, Downtown and countless restaurants.
“It’s a great sense of community within this big city,” he said. “We have great neighbors and although a lot of people don’t know this, my wife and I were married at the San Diego Museum of Art. The byline for San Diego is America’s Finest City, and for me, in all honesty, it feels that way. It’s been a very welcoming place.”
For information about the San Diego Symphony’s upcoming concert season or their current Summer Pops outdoor schedule, visit sandiegosymphony.org.
—Margie Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer. You can reach her at email@example.com.