Thursday, November 28, 2013

SPOTLIGHT: Guillermo Figueroa, Artistic Director of the Figueroa Music & Art Project

There are many tales of reinvention in theatre, and Guillermo Figueroa's approach to his artistic career has centered around taking chances and embracing the changes that a career in the arts can encompass. Raised in a family of music lovers, the violin was placed in his hands at the age of  five, and the instrument became the catalyst to his lifelong pursuit and love of music.

As a third generation musician in his family, Figueroa's musical studies began with his father and uncle at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico and continued later at Julliard, here in the United States. A renowned violinist, he went on to perform with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York City, and many more companies as a guest musician. Figueroa was concertmaster of the New York City Ballet for a decade, performing with the ballet company, and even collaborated with ballet master Peter Martins to have a piece made with him onstage, playing the violin, alongside a piano, and two dancers performing.

His inspirational approach to music has brought forth more than dance pieces, but four concertos with orchestra written for him, which Figueroa performed the world premieres of, and many smaller works which have been composed for him also. After playing a Berlioz opera in Carnegie Hall, Figueroa became fanatical for the composer's work, confessing he absorbs as much of Berlioz's music as possible in his off hours, and even went so far as to organize a Berlioz Festival, commemorating the 2003 bicentennial of the birth of the composer here in Albuquerque, featuring lecturers, poets, painters and, of course, musicians, to commemorate the event.

His work as a conductor and guest conductor have allowed him to collaborate with some amazing artists, such as Itzhak Perlman, YoYo Ma, and Placido Domingo, to name only a few. Collaborating with Ernesto Cordero once again, Figueroa recorded Cordero's concertos for the Naxos label, earning him a Latin Grammy nomination in 2012. When asked how these profound experiences affect his own art, Figueroa insists that by finding ways to combine artists and their various artistic expressions, whether by graphic arts, music, or dance, the audience benefits the most.

Never one to slow down, Figueroa worked as the music director of the Puerto Rico Symphony while also acting as the conductor and music director at our own New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, starting in 2002. When the Symphony folded, Figueroa couldn't see letting the momentum go here in New Mexico, and so began the Figueroa Music and Arts Project. Created with the vision of combining music with other art forms, (a forte of his) and bringing excellence in performance quality and artistic focus, the Figueroa Project collaborates regularly with other New Mexico artists and companies to bring performances of the highest caliber for audiences to enjoy.

Click above to watch Guillermo Figueroa perform Insula, written for him by Ernesto Cordero

His Diaghilev-like approach has encouraged many in our New Mexico arts community to collaborate and with such masterful combinations onstage, the audience is the true winner. It was just such a collaboration that first brought him here in 2000, when Patricia Dickinson Wells, currently the artistic director of Festival Ballet Albuquerque, asked Figueroa to conduct "The Nutcracker," setting off the chain of events which culminated in his offer to become music director at the New Mexico Symphony.

Figueroa and Dickinson Wells never stopped their artistic collaboration, with one concert recently concluded ("The Firebird and Tchaikovsky") and another gala event to come. "New Years Eve in Vienna," modeled after the well known Vienna Philharmonic concert broadcasts, feature a lighter fare of music as well as some Hungarian dance pieces, giving the audience their own taste of Vienna. Featuring the dancers of Festival Ballet Albuquerque, the event takes place on December 31st at the National Hispanic Cultural Center at 8 pm. For a additional price, those wishing to make an evening of the concert are invited to stay afterward for the catered reception to raise a glass.

Looking towards the rest of the 2013-14 season, Figueroa is excited about even more unique combinations of art forms that are in the works. In February, collaborating with the St. Johns Church in downtown Albuquerque, as well as the chorus of St. Johns, an all Baroque program will be presented. And in April, the Figueroa Project will perform a chamber-oriented program, "German masters and the Holocaust, a Theatrical Remembrance." Featuring music of Schubert and Mozart for the first half of the program, the second half will be Marc Neikrug's "Through Roses," featuring the actor John Rubinstein (son of acclaimed pianist Arthur Rubinstein) alongside the music, during a reminiscence of a holocaust camp.

Knowing resources should be shared, and fostering collaborative efforts among the companies in order to achieve a new and higher expression of art, is what makes Figueroa such a uniquely talented musician and artist. For tickets to the gala, their future concerts, and more information about Guillermo Figueroa and the Figueroa Music and Arts Project, check out their website at

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