Q&A with Music Director Candidate Carlos Izcaray

Guest conductor Carlos Izcaray makes his Grand Rapids Symphony debut on Feb. 19-20 to lead your Grand Rapids Symphony in music touching three centuries and three traditions. 

Now in his first season as music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Izcaray is a candidate to become the next music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony. 

Mezzo Soprano Katherine Pracht

The Venezuelan-born conductor leads your Grand Rapids Symphony in Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No 3 and in Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” (“The Sea”) in the seventh concert of the 2015-16 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series. 

The program also welcomes mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht as soloist in “Neruda Songs,” a cycle of five songs with texts by poet Pablo Neruda, set to music by contemporary American composer Peter Lieberson. 

Born in Caracas into a musical family, Izcaray’s father is a noted conductor and music educator, and his mother as an arts administrator. Izcaray, a cellist, along with his two brothers all pursue music professional. An alumnus of Interlochen Arts Academy and Indiana State University, Izcaray won top prizes in 2008 at the Toscanini International Conductors Competition and in 2007 at the Aspen Music Festival, where he also was a distinguished fellow at the American Academy of Conducting. 

A cellist by training, Izcaray enjoys playing electric cello as well as acoustic cello, and he composes and dabbles as a disc jockey

Here’s more on Carols Izcaray:  

Q - Venezuela is famous for its education of young musicians through its publicly financed music education program, “El Sistema,” launched in the 1970s to provide opportunities to impoverished children. The program gave Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel his start and you have been involved with as well. What sort of lessons from your experience with this program do you bring to the podium?   

There's an overall feeling of joy, humility, and love towards music in Venezuela that I believe has influenced me greatly and also helped me maintain a fresh approach towards this great art. “El Sistema” was a very valuable and useful experience where I was exposed to musicians of all varieties, from professionals to semi-professionals, from educators to social workers. Working there helped me appreciate even more the power of music over the human soul and society.     

Q- What are your favorite pieces to conduct? Do you have a favorite?   

(Berlioz’) “Symphonie Fantastique,” Strauss tone poems and operas, symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Haydn, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Sibelius, Schumann, and Shostakovich.   Anything from Bach, Bartok, Britten, Debussy, Ravel, or Stravinsky. Late works of Dvorak, Rachmaninoff Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Verdi.  More rarely performed composers include (John) Corigliano, (Henri) Dutilleux, (Alberto) Ginastera, (Carl) Nielsen, (Silvestre) Revueltas and (Franz) Schreker.    Americans such as Barber, Bernstein, and Ives.  Operas of Massenet, Puccini, and Wagner. The list could really go on and on. I just love what I do!   

Q - Your father is a very well-known musician in Venezuela. What sort of impact has your father's career had on your music?     

My father instilled a genuine love for music in my family's household. This was accompanied by a sense of mission of the arts in society.   We would play musical games since I was very young.  He used to listen to records of pieces such as Ravel's Bolero with legendary guitarist Alirio Díaz, and together they would test my young ears to see if I could name all the different instruments as they would become audible.   Aside from being a distinguished conductor, he’s also an extremely knowledgeable, kind, and inspiring pedagogue, so it's probably no surprise that all three of his sons ended up being musicians. My mother, who is an arts administrator and an enthusiastic choral musician, also is an important part of the equation. I literally grew up in a musical and overall artistic world.     

Carlo Izcaray, GRS music director candidate

Q - When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?   

It wasn't until I was between 16 and 17 that I felt that music was my true calling. Listening repeatedly to Yo-yo Ma's recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto was the catalyst to making this decision. My deep interest in symphonic music and conducting started with Brahms symphonies, Ravel, “The Rite of Spring,” Bruckner’s Seventh, and rare pieces like Shostakovich's “The Execution of Stepan Razin” and Krzysztof Penderecki's chilling work “Utrejna” (“The Entombment of Christ”)     

Q - What is something you like to do in your spare time outside of music? 

Enjoying my family, reading, watching movie classics, shooting basketball hoops, outdoor activities, photography, and connecting with old and new friends.     

Q - What are you most looking forward to during your visit to Grand Rapids?   

I'm looking forward to joining the stage with a highly respected and exemplary orchestral. Aside from that, I'm also excited about spending some quality time in an area not so far from where I finished high school and perhaps visiting a couple of the world-famous Grand Rapids art shows and breweries.  

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 9:00 AM
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