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Pacific Symphony's new Assistant Conductor Alejandro Gutiérrez makes his debut leading the youth orchestra in Tchaikovsky's challenging fourth symphony

April 25, 2013

Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra’s (PSYO) “Season Finale” not only serves as a conclusion to their 2012-13 season, but also marks the beginning of the orchestra’s journey with its new leader—Music Director Alejandro Gutiérrez. Under his direction, the young but extremely talented musicians (grades 9-12) tackle Tchaikovsky’s complete Fourth Symphony. The program also showcases this season’s Concerto Competition Winner, Justin Koga, who performs the fourth movement of Elgar’s haunting Cello Concerto. Starting on a light note, the program opens with Chabrier’s charming “Espana.” The concert takes place Sunday, May 12, at 3 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $12, general admission. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“I couldn’t be more excited about this first concert with PSYO, especially after the first rehearsals with such a wonderful group of talented young musicians,” says Gutiérrez, who made his debut as the Symphony’s assistant conductor in January, leading the Family Musical Mornings production of “The Magic Flute,” and now conducts the youth orchestra for the first time after a season of sharing duties with former Assistant Conductor Maxim Eshkenazy. “I love the wonderful attitude they have toward making music and the great results we are getting together. Overall, I’m most looking forward to fully raising their trust in themselves and the awareness of the incredible things they can do when vision, talent, attitude, discipline and teamwork are mixed together.” The concert opens with Emmanuel Chabrier’s fast-paced and lighthearted “España.” Composed in 1883 after the composer vacationed throughout Spain, the work is inspired by his observations of the country’s folk and dance music.

“I love the way the concert opens full of light and enchanting musical colors and rhythms with the picturesque ‘Espana’ by Chabrier,” says Gutiérrez. “There is a vibrant energy from the beginning to the end in this piece that will capture the audience with images of Spain.”

Next, 14-year-old award-winning cellist Koga takes center stage to perform the fourth movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Koga is the recipient of the Los Angeles Violoncello Society scholarship and one of 13 young cellists selected to participate in the National Cello Institute’s Advanced Residency Program. Elgar’s Cello Concerto was composed in 1919, riding on the heels of World War I, and offers concertgoers an artistic representation of the harsh perceptions of war. The composition is filled with melancholic sounds and a fluid lyricism that expresses the trauma of war and value of human life. “The musicianship and artistry of Justin Koga is more mature than his youth,” comments Gutiérrez. “Elgar’s Cello Concerto is deeply intellectual and emotional, and Justin is giving us a wonderful interpretation of it. When I talk to him his voice shows the normal shy personality of most teenagers, but with his cello in arms his interaction and musical projection is really vibrant, strong and solid.”

After intermission, the concert concludes with Tchaikovsky’s triumphant Symphony No. 4. The four-movement work was composed in 1877 and follows an inherently Romantic style. Tchaikovsky began composing the work before his marriage to Antonia Ivanovna Milyukova, and although the marriage was short-lived, lasting only two months, they never actually divorced. The tumultuous marriage had a profound effect on Tchaikovsky’s music; after his failed romance, he began exploring composing with new forms. Tchaikovsky, often referred to as a “master of transitions,” offers an interconnected retrospective between each movement, allowing concertgoers to get lost in the music and its symphonic harmony.

“As great and dramatic as it is, the Symphony No. 4 is still one of the most performed orchestral works around the world today,” says Gutiérrez. “However, it is still a difficult piece to put together, even for a professional orchestra, due to the particular way Tchaikovsky used to express his turbulent personal emotions. For him, it was more important to freely express his deep feelings than to conform to the conventional musical forms already used by composers of the 18th century. That is why I’m so proud of these young musicians of PSYO, who have overcome those technical, non-conventional idioms and now are focused on bringing an outstanding and deeply felt interpretation of this great piece.”

Gutiérrez has been associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica since 1998, touring with the orchestra around all seven provinces of the nation, as well as conducting some subscription concerts. He is the creator and conductor of several successful educational and family programs: “Discovering Beethoven,” “The Family Instruments of the Orchestra,” “From the Caves to the Orchestra” and “The Concerto,” among others. He has guest conducted the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, the Honduras Philharmonic, the Tatui Summer Festival Wind Orchestra, MIMU Festival Chamber Ensemble in Brazil and Costa Rica’s National Symphonic Choir. Gutiérrez has also served as assistant conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, music director of the University of Texas University Orchestra, music director and conductor for the 2011 University of Texas Opera Center production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” and prepared the national and international casts of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” for the Costa Rican National Lyric Opera in 2007.

As music director and conductor of the University of Costa Rica Symphony Orchestra and the National Institute of Music Wind Orchestra, Gutiérrez led a program for new music in which he premiered winning compositions of the National Award of Composition given by the minister of culture. He is the founder and director of the internationally known chamber ensemble “Trombones de Costa Rica,” which tours the U.S., Caribbean, Central and South America and Europe, and was awarded Costa Rica’s National Prize of Music in 1999 and the Special Prize of the City of Passau, Germany, in 1997.