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The Naxos Interview: Giancarlo Guerrero talks with Laurence Vittes

March 27, 2017

On their new CD of music by Jennifer Higdon, Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony play the world premiere recordings of two woodwind concertos and an important orchestral piece. One concerto is  for principal oboist James Button and one is for violist turned head of the Curtis Institute of Music Robert Díaz. The big piece is only the second recording of Higdon’s All Things Majestic, a Grand Tetons Music Festival commission that was so important, its 2012 premiere in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was featured in Gramophone.

HIGDON All Things Majestic / Viola Concerto / Oboe Concerto
Díaz, Button, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero

Jennifer Higdon’s Viola Concerto (2014) was commissioned by The Library of Congress, in honor of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Library’s concert series. The work was co-commissioned by the Curtis Institute of Music, the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Nashville Symphony. The Oboe Concerto (2005) was commissioned by the Minnesota Commissioning Club.

Recording live at the Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, in Nashville, in January and March 2016, the production team consisted of Tim Handley and Gary Call. Lawdon Press publishes the music, and the booklet notes were written by Thomas May.

I spoke to Maestro Guerrero in Nashville.

Giancarlo Guerrero
Photo: Ma2la

LV: How did the CD come about?

Giancarlo Guerrero: It was our responsibility as part of the commissioning group to record the Viola Concerto—we didn’t care about the world premiere, the most important thing to us was doing the recording. When James Button, after doing a lot of research, said that Jennifer’s Oboe Concerto was the one he wanted, I called her and said we needed another 40 minutes and she immediately suggested All Things Majestic. That there was no recording made it an even more obvious choice.

LV: What were the forces that had to be mobilized to make this recording happen?

Giancarlo Guerrero: The saying, “it takes a village,” was really true in this case. Because in Nashville, it’s not only the production team and all the people you mentioned, it’s also everyone who attends our concerts and hears our live recordings on Naxos. In fact, our audiences have come to the realization that they are making the most important contribution to the orchestra, they are totally invested in what we are doing, and in a real sense they feel like they own the Symphony.

LV: It sounds like the fan base of a professional sports team.

Giancarlo Guerrero: Think about it: the music is being written for them and so naturally they’re going to be rooting for new pieces that were written for them to become the next great warhorse. We do pre-concert and post-concert discussions at each concert, and I do them both when I am conducting. I tell the audience,  “This is your orchestra, it’s been tailor made for you in this 21st century day and age.”

LV: Do you live in Nashville yourself?

Giancarlo Guerrero: I do. And as a proud band dad, I am proud to be conducting the Tennessee All-State orchestra in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony at the Grand Old Opry on April 8 where we will be hearing the next generation of musicians in Tennessee.

LV: How do they prepare for such an awesome assignment?

Giancarlo Guerrero: I will tell them that they  are expected to come with a solid understanding of the music. This means taking the music to their private instructors and having fingerings marked. I also included notes like “3rd Movement string divisi should be distributed as listed below.”

LV: It sounds like a lot of work.

Giancarlo Guerrero: It is. Plus, since no one will be seated until they arrive for All State week, the strings will have to be ready to play multiple parts. And of course they will need to spend time listening to recordings of the Symphony.

LV: It sounds like some serious bonding is going on between the Symphony and the city.

Giancarlo Guerrero: We know that orchestras basically serve as cultural ambassadors and they do it best and most authentically when they connect with their communities every day—whether they’re the Berlin Philharmonic or the Nashville Symphony. It’s not just about playing concerts. For an orchestra to be successful it must have roots.

LV: How are your investments in roots paying off?

Giancarlo Guerrero: We are just beginning to see the results of our investments in making classical music accessible to the widest possible diversity of young Nashville audiences. We have one new program called Accelerando designed for serious music students from ethnic communities underrepresented in today’s orchestras, who have a high musical aptitude and the motivation to pursue a professional music career on a standard orchestral instrument.

LV: What are your next recordings?

Giancarlo Guerrero: Next month we will be recording Brad Warnaar’s Horn Concerto and Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto; we’ve already recorded the third work on the CD, Frank Ticheli’s Flute Concerto.

LV: What are the best places to eat in Nashville after the concerts?

Giancarlo Guerrero: Lots of times we just walk a block to hear the best bluegrass in the world at Honky Tonk Central; like recently, after a concert of Higdon and Alban Berg, the bluegrass was just right.

Giancarlo Guerrero Biography & Discography

Nashville Symphony Orchestra Background & Discography


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