Muñoz Steps to the Podium
Third and final conductor candidate has musical theater background
by Suzi Steffen
The Eugene Symphony’s compressed search for a new music director heads down the home stretch this week with third candidate Tito Muñoz.
Muñoz, who’s 25 and an assistant conductor with the prestigious Cleveland Orchestra, grew up in Queens and started studying violin at Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program when he was 13. He spent several summers at the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen, Colo., and served as assistant conductor of the Cinncinnati Symphony before going to Cleveland. Muñoz conducts the Eugene Symphony in a free concert in Silva Hall at 8 pm Thursday, Sept. 25 (tickets are gone, but there may be some returns; head to the Hult at 7 pm for more info).
Like the other two candidates, Nir Kabaretti and Danail Rachev, Muñoz will conduct the first movement of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8 and one movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto in C Major with UO piano professor Alexandre Dossin as the soloist. In addition, Muñoz picked the overture to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 to round out his program.
EW sat down with Muñoz for a brief chat on his first full day in Eugene.
OK, starting with a softball, or rather a baseball, question: Mets or Yankees?
I’m a Yankee fan.
You are?! You’re deserting your borough!
I know. I used to go to Shea Stadium a lot when I was little, but I’m a Yankee fan.
All right, so tell me how you got interested in music.
I started out playing the violin in middle school. The teacher came into our recorder class and asked if anyone was interested. I signed up, and that’s how it all got started.
It seems like you were interested in conducting early on as well.
Yeah, it came hand in hand with my starting the Music Advancement Program at Juilliard. The whole idea of becoming a professional musician got set in my mind then. I was 13 when I started, so that was pretty early.
Tell me about assistant conducting life in Cinncinnati and Cleveland.
It’s amazing to see in both of those cities how supportive the community is of both of those orchestras. … Especially in Cleveland, watching them rehearse and watching them perform is an incredible educational experience for me. They play the way I think an orchestra should play, like a large chamber ensemble. They have that culture instilled in them from the days of [George] Szell. And working with the staff, the music directors, the guest conductors — it’s been great for me.
Right. So, obviously, why Eugene?
Well, the simplest answer is timing. I’m at a point now where I feel I’m ready to take on my own orchestra, and Eugene is ready for a new leader. One thing I’ve known about Eugene, and I’ve come to know more of as I’ve gone through the process, is how the community cares about the orchestra and how the orchestra as an organization is really forward-thinking in terms of what they mean to the community, how relevant they are, reaching out. I believe in that — you try to do what you can to bring great music to the people. That’s been important to me in coming here, on top of the reputation of the orchestra.
Explain your program. How’d you pick Bernstein and Beethoven?
I began the process of deciding what I wanted to do by asking the committee why they chose those two pieces. … From that, I was able to decide what I wanted to do. I chose Candide because my initial experiences as a conductor were in musical theater, working at the French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts. Candide’s one of my favorites, and Bernstein’s one of my favorite American composers. I wanted the audience to see what the rapport would be like between me and the musicians right from the beginning. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
And Beethoven 7, that’s a piece that, just like the Schubert, a conductor can really make his mark with that piece. It’s a piece that audiences love to hear, a conductor loves to conduct and orchestras love to play. That’s a party piece in a lot of ways for me, one of my favorites, and I think it will show what I can do
A longer version of this interview is online at blogs.eugeneweekly.com