Odysseys: Music fills miles between Argentina and the Steel City



Many milestones in Pablo Ardiles' life revolved around music, even before he was born. His parents met in Tucuman, a province in northern Argentina, where his dad worked at the conservatory as a piano tuner and his mother was a piano student.

It was passion for music that initially brought Pablo to Pittsburgh. He flew from Argentina to the Steel City on Christmas Day 1990; flights were less expensive on the holiday. He arrived with his violin to learn more about the music program at Carnegie Mellon University and to meet the famous Cuban-born Andres Cardenes, who had just been appointed concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Pablo's musical career took him back to Argentina three years later to work in San Luis, where he met Claudia, whom he married a year later in Pittsburgh.

When Pablo first arrived in Pittsburgh and entered the city through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, he said to himself, "I want to know more about the society that built this city."

He struggled with English. "It was a big barrier," he explains, but he spoke the universal language of music. "Even before I became a student, I had an opportunity to play in the Carnegie Mellon University Orchestra, and then I auditioned for Andres Cardenes."

Pablo impressed the concertmaster. "You have the level to be in the master's program and work as a graduate student, and we are offering scholarships. So if you are interested, you can start in September," Mr. Cardenes told him.

By then, Pablo had made up his mind. He liked the school and the orchestra. The opportunity to study under Mr. Cardenes pretty much sealed the deal. That's how Pablo became a master's student of music and violin performance at CMU.

In 1993, as Pablo was about to graduate, he decided to try his luck and apply for a green card while waiting at the International Students' Office. A few weeks later, he received a notification, which, as he understood it, told him he didn't get it. Disappointed, he put it away in a stack of papers. His family arrived in Pittsburgh to attend his graduate recital in May.

After graduation, on May 15, Pablo got a phone call from the conductor of Argentina's San Luis Orchestra, who was looking for a concertmaster. A former CMU student recommended Pablo for the job. The conductor wanted Pablo to audition, but he needed Pablo to be in San Luis before May 25. Pablo left his parents behind in Pittsburgh with a roommate who didn't speak Spanish. "It was all sign language between them," Pablo says, laughing.

Pablo flew back to Argentina and became the concertmaster of the San Luis Orchestra. Claudia was a manager of the orchestra at the time. "She did a lot of things," Pablo says. "She was a translator, psychologist and a baby sitter." The orchestra was an international bunch of musicians "with a spirit of adventure to go to San Luis, Argentina," as Pablo puts it. "And only someone like Claudia could manage it all. I admired her for how she could do all of it."

For Claudia, the job with the orchestra was a temporary gig, a way for her to earn some money and practice her English. At that time, she applied to continue her graduate studies in psychology in Spain. And then she met Pablo. They started dating, and that's when Pablo found out he was accepted to continue his work and education in violin performance at Duquesne University. The couple had to decide whether they would remain together. Pablo didn't think a long-distance relationship would work for him, so Claudia decided to apply to Duquesne. Pablo was back in Pittsburgh in the fall of 1993. Claudia moved to the Steel City, too. In January 1994 she started her graduate degree in counseling.

One day, Claudia was looking through a stack of Pablo's papers. She saw that notification letter about the green card. "What is this?" Claudia asked. "I applied for the green card lottery, but I didn't get it," he replied. "I think the opposite is true, you did get it," she said. At that point the deadline to submit the paperwork was two weeks away. "It just shows you how poor my English was, or maybe I read it too quickly," Pablo says.

Pablo and Claudia got married in July 1994.

In 2002, they adopted their first child, Santiago. Two years later, they adopted their daughter, Gabriela.

For the Ardileses, Pittsburgh is a perfect place to raise a family and have fulfilling careers. "Pittsburgh is big enough to have a great infrastructure, museums, places to go to, and it is also small enough for people to have a sense of community," said Claudia.

Claudia and Pablo love helping people: Claudia through counseling and her work as a therapist, Pablo as a violin instructor and music director at the Pittsburgh Youth Chamber Orchestra helping young people discover beauty. "What I like about being a musician is that I bring a little bit of transcendence to the world that seems to be caught up in science, productivity and efficiency. To spend time with another human and say, we are going to stop all that for a moment and say we are going to contemplate beauty for beauty itself, is a privilege. There is another world out there that you cannot see with your eyes or comprehend with your mind."

Pablo particularly enjoys working with youth. "I can have more impact on the education of the youth, because they are like sponges. They keep you young, too. Working with young people in music is like hitting the double jackpot. It forces you to change, to learn new things. They are like a current of life. ... They remind me that life goes on. I feel double-blessed."

Listen to Pablo and Claudia talk about Pittsburgh

This article is part of the Odysseys project through which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is trying to track immigrants from 193 countries in the United Nations, folks who made Pittsburgh their home. Read about countries we have found, and help us with those we are yet to make a connection at post-gazette.com/odysseys.


Mila Sanina: msanina@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1731.

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