Growing up in a small town in Cuba, Cosette Justo Valdés was a young musician with promise.
At the age of 18, a professor gave her the idea of becoming a conductor. It was an idea, she says, that seemed ambitious.
"For me what that was like to become an astronaut," Valdés told CBC's All Points West.
Years later, Valdés has managed to make that dream come true, having worked as a conductor in Cuba, Europe and Canada.
The latest chapter of her career has her serving as the artistic director of the Vancouver Island Symphony.
Valdés, who is a resident conductor with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, says the first time she visited Vancouver Island in 2020 she instantly felt at home.
"Vancouver Island ... became my paradise and it proved to me that Canada has everything," she said.
"There is even an island [near] Vancouver Island named Valdes," she added, a joking nod to the Gulf Island in southwest B.C. named after Spanish Navy commander Cayetano Valdés y Flores.
The Nanaimo-based symphony is set to kick off its 29th season with a performance entitled Blooming, which includes a Beethoven piano concerto and a symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Valdés says the music of the Soviet-era Russian composer resonates with her.
"It speaks of the dictatorship that he was confronting," she said.
"There is a lot there that I will talk about during the concert about what we know of repression, of dictatorship, and how the world right now is learning a lot about so many countries that suffer from dictatorship."
The performance will also feature the work of Juno-winning Canadian composer Bekah Simms.
Valdés's path to Vancouver Island was a circuitous one. She never travelled outside of Cuba until she was 29 years old. She eventually studied in Germany and worked with numerous orchestral, choral and chamber ensembles in Europe.
"Coming to Canada I feel that I can harvest all of that and incorporate new things, fascinating things," she said.
Blooming will take place Wednesday at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo.