Conductor Guillermo Figueroa introduced himself to Tucson with Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” in May 2006.
The response? Hand-stinging applause and a standing ovation from the audience and a robust leg-slapping ovation from Tucson Symphony Orchestra musicians.
The reception was just as warm and enthusiastic when he returned in December 2008 to lead the TSO in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, the closest thing the Hungarian composer came to writing a symphony.
Now with more than just a fly-in-and-leave gig on the line, Figueroa is hoping to recreate and build on that connection as he throws his baton into the ring to become the TSO’s next conductor.
“I would love the job,” he said last week from Florida, where he heads the orchestra program for the Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton. “I had a great time, which is why I am looking forward to going back. It doesn’t always happen where a conductor likes the orchestra and the orchestra seems to like the conductor. When that happens it’s rare, and I know that very well, which is why I am very much looking forward to going back.”
For a full picture of Figueroa the music-maker, the accomplished violinist will open the concert in the solo violin role for Cordero’s “Insula Tropical,” a hybrid of two works by fellow Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero. Cordero dedicated the “Insula” to Figueroa, who recorded it and Cordero’s Concertino Tropical on one disc last year. The recording was nominated for a Latin Grammy.
“If I am going to be in Tucson, then people should know my complete musical personality. And clearly I am very active as a violinist and I will never not do that,” said Figueroa, who led the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra for 10 years in Albuquerque until the orchestra filed bankruptcy and folded in spring 2011. He and his violinist wife Valerie Turner still live in Albuquerque. I intend to continue playing if I am in Tucson.”
The program also flashes back to Figueroa’s past TSO concerts; it is anchored by Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and the suite from Bartók’s ballet “The Miraculous Mandarin.”
“(Bartok’s suite) is such a wonderful piece and it’s such a great contrast to Rachmaninoff that I said well, what the hell. At the risk of being pegged as a two-composer conductor, that makes a great program anyway so let’s go with that,” he said.