Giancarlo Guerrero brings a deep-seated passion to the podium

By Dorothy Hindman

Giancarlo Guerrero will conduct the Cleveland Orchestra’s final Miami program of the season featuring music of Beethoven and Lieberson at the Arsht Center. Photo: Roger Mastroianni

The three primary passions of Giancarlo Guerrero’s professional life — conducting a great orchestra, presenting new music and working with singers — will intersect in the final concerts of the Cleveland Orchestra’s 2012-13 Miami residency.

The Nicaraguan-born conductor will lead the orchestra in Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs and, joined by vocal soloists and a 270-member chorus, Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 9  March 14-16 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Lieberson’s work, a setting of five sonnets by the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, will cast the Beethoven in a fresh light for audiences, Guerrero said.

“I am constantly looking for that new composer that I think has something to say that will mean a lot to the audiences of today,” he said.

“By putting the Beethoven Ninth on the second half, and having the Neruda Songs on the first half, the Beethoven is heard through the prism of the Lieberson, adding to the mysticism of the live concert experience.”

Lieberson wrote the Neruda Songs for his wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt, who premiered it in 2005, recording the work with James Levine and the Boston Symphony. She died of breast cancer the following year at age 52. Five years later, Lieberson, 64, died of lymphoma.

“I think it’s one of the great pieces written in the last 10 years,” Guerrero said. “Coming myself from Latin America, Neruda is a poet that is in our DNA. When you read his poems, it sounds like music.

“The rhyme is so perfect that putting them to music is truly exciting, especially in the hands of a great composer like Peter. The fact that both Peter and his wife Lorraine have passed away in recent years makes it even more poignant.”

Nicole Cabell, who will be the soprano soloist in the Beethoven, calls Guerrero a singer’s conductor. “We did Scheherazade together, and he’s a pleasure to work with,” she said. “He was very interested in keeping the music alive and not just mired in tradition. He was open to collaborating with singers instead of simply dictating rules.”

Says Guerrero, “When you learn to follow singers, … it makes you approach conducting instruments with a different point of view. Singers have to breathe, and that’s how you hope your music is being presented, in such a natural way that it seems to just flow out of your body and out of your instrument.”

This will be Guerrero’s first time working with the other soloists, tenor Garrett Sorenson, bass Raymond Aceto and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, who will also sing the Neruda Songs. It will also be his first time working with two major Florida choral organizations on Beethoven’s beloved “Ode to Joy” symphony.

“Our singers are saying this is a chance of a lifetime,” says James Bass, artistic director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, which draws its 172 members from five counties. “The chairman of the board for the Master Chorale is from Cleveland, but says he’s never dreamed of singing with the Cleveland Orchestra.”

Tampa Bay will combine forces with the Master Chorale of South Florida, 100 singers from Miami and Fort Lauderdale prepared by interim director Alec Schumacker.

In the second of a three-year residency with Cleveland Orchestra Miami, Guerrero says he feels a special connection to the exile community as well as the orchestra.

“Although I did not come to Miami myself, the story is pretty much the same,” he said. “After a performance, concertgoers come backstage, and they tell me their own story, and we share my story. It’s like we are related in some way.

“When you understand each other, and have that personal connection, the performance and the music-making becomes even more special, because it’s coming from somebody that you can relate to on a higher level.”

Born in Nicaragua, Guerrero, 43, fled with his family to Costa Rica after the Sandinistas took power in 1979. To keep him out of trouble after school, his parents signed him up for a youth symphony.

He had dreamed of playing violin, but on audition day the line was long for violin, so he stepped over to a shorter line, and ended up a percussionist. He likes to say that in becoming a conductor, he “dropped one stick and moved to the front.”

Guerrero returns annually to Latin America to conduct the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar in Caracas and work with young musicians in Venezuela’s El Sistema music education program.

Though he guest conducts all over the world, his main position is music director of the Nashville Symphony, which recently extended his contract through 2020. Guerrero and the symphony have won Grammy Awards for their recordings of music by contemporary composers Michael Daugherty and Joseph Schwantner.

If Guerrero connects easily with his musicians and his audiences, he is no less intent on forging connections with the South Florida community.

“To me, that is the key of the future of classical music. Going out and speaking to clubs like the Rotary Club, to schools, visiting the local universities and doing education concerts, putting myself in front of as many different constituencies as possible, of every background, age group, income group, is imperative. The message is the same: how great music can literally change and enrich your life.

“And this is the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the greatest orchestras of the world, with a very strong presence in Miami,” he adds. “This goes to the benefit of the community, of the city. We cannot take that for granted, we have to make sure to reach out, to remind people that there is something special and unique happening in Miami in this day and age.”

Giancarlo Guerrero conducts the Cleveland Orchestra, soloists and choruses in Lieberson’s Neruda Songs and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 March 14-16 at the Arsht Center in Miami. 305-949-6722; 

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2 Responses to “Giancarlo Guerrero brings a deep-seated passion to the podium”

  1. Posted Mar 08, 2013 at 3:36 pm by Ralph Shafer

    Can’t wait, should be a great performance. Don’t forget the prelude concert by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.

  2. Posted Mar 25, 2013 at 3:05 am by Vaugh Trot

    Dudamel had cojones to go and play in Chavez’ funeral. He did not care what the rich patrons of LA thought. He was even abused in Israel for being a Bolivarian revolutionary. If Guerrero is with the Gusanos, he is no friend of the Venezuelan people. Giancarlo needs “El Sistema” more that it needs him.

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Fri Mar 8, 2013
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