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225 Magazine: Meet the Maestro

Published Jan 31, 2012 at 6:00 am (Updated May 4, 2012)

The 27-year-old classical composer and conductor talks about his early introduction to music, the creative importance of his experimental band Incense Merchants and what it feels like to get children out from hiding under chairs.

Tell me about your first experience learning music.

Growing up in Purral, Costa Rica, a suburb northeast of San Jose, I started playing drums and recorder with a small school ensemble in first grade. My parents were not musicians, but they always encouraged my sister and me. A couple of years later, I started playing the violin at the Costa Rica National Symphony’s Conservatory. I was lucky to get a wonderful violin teacher, Jose Castillo, and studied with him for 13 years until I left Costa Rica.

Now you are an acclaimed conductor and composer playing the mentor role with Kids’ Orchestra. What is most fulfilling about that reversal?

Thanks to our wonderful teachers we’ve seen some children go from hiding under chairs and being shy and antisocial to becoming leaders and key players in our orchestra. They’re growing not only musically, but more importantly, emotionally and intellectually. That’s what Kids’ Orchestra is all about.

You are a busy man. What’s on your slate for the next few months?

Kids’ Orchestra will be expanding to other area schools, so I want to continue working with Gwen Jones and Eliza Eaton to make this program reach as many kids as possible. At the same time, I will be finishing my doctoral work at LSU, graduating in May and traveling to conduct in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Panama and Costa Rica. This summer we will have a Kids’ Orchestra summer camp, and I will conduct in Aspen and New York City.

You also play with Incense Merchants, an experimental and improvisational local band. Some other musicians with your experience might shy away from that type of non-symphony project. Why do you embrace it?

I think that making music, no matter what type, is about communication. To reach out to your audience and tell them a story with your instrument is so rewarding. Playing classical music is all about sharing with your audience the musical words of master composers, but to feel fulfilled artistically, I also like to share my own musical words and thoughts. With the Incense Merchants I have been able to do that though improvisation, electronics and other experimental techniques. The band has become a very important creative outlet.

Will you stay in Baton Rouge after graduation?

My goal is to continue working with Kids’ Orchestra while developing my conducting career internationally. Baton Rouge is a great place to be, and in the six years I’ve been here our city has bloomed, particularly in the arts, despite budget cuts and other obstacles. Even if my work takes me other places, I intend to maintain a relationship with this place, its great people and arts organizations.

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