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Music in the Mountain’s Figueroa: Hail and farewell

Guillermo Figueroa, artistic director and conductor of Music in the Mountains. (Illustration by Judith Reynolds)
The Maestro celebrates his final festival

Time flies.

On July 27, 2007, Guillermo Figueroa auditioned for the top job at Music in the Mountains. On Aug. 4, he will conduct his final festival concert and say farewell. A lot has happened in between.

In 2007, Figueroa, 54, walked into the Festival Tent at Purgatory Village and conducted three works: “Le Corsaire Overture” by Berlioz, Barber’s Violin Concerto with soloist Anne Akiko Meyers, and after intermission, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. He was one of seven candidates, three of whom also conducted summer concerts: Peter Bay, Leif Bjaland and Arthur Post. Three other candidates had been guest conductors the previous summer: Boris Brott, Bruce Hangen and Joel Revzen.

If you go

WHAT: 38th annual Music in the Mountains.

WHEN: July 12-Aug. 4.

WHERE: Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, Sky Ute Event Center, various locations.

TICKETS: $50-$250 ($5 Family Concert on July 24).

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.musicinthemountains.com or call 385-6820.

For those who were on the mountain that evening 17 years ago, Figueroa’s night was spellbinding.

“I remember how impressed I was when Guillermo took the stage and conducted during his interview visit,” said Florence (“Foxie”) Mason, chairwoman of the search committee. “From the first moment it was clear Guillermo had a passion for music plus excellent conducting abilities – bringing out the best in the MiTM orchestra.”

Tom Jones, board president in 2007, also remembers the transition time: “Out of the seven truly outstanding candidates, Guillermo was the clear winner, both from the search committee and from the orchestra,” he said.

This is Guillermo Figueroa’s last season with Music in the Mountains. (Courtesy)

Figueroa followed Mischa Semanitsky, the festival’s founder and first conductor. At the time, Semanitsky’s contract went through 2010. “But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to make the transition this year.” Semanitsky, 79, said in a 2007 interview,

That was then, summer 2007. Semanitsky led the summer festival for 21 years and was ready to step down. Now, 17 years later, Figueroa, 71, has made the same decision.

The third festival director will be announced in early September, incoming MiTM Board President Liz Hogan said. “For now, this summer is all about Guillermo,” she said.

Figueroa’s way of saying goodbye is to bring new soloists, new programming and some old favorites to us again. In addition, he has written a goodbye letter in the festival program. His appreciation for all who have helped him is clear, especially “devoted patrons, the Board, and the staff.”

This summer’s fare is a “splendid banquet,” writes Figueroa, with “three of the most sought after and brilliant soloists of today: Olga Kern, Gold Medalist of the Van Cliburn Competition with the virtuoso Second Concerto of Rachmaninoff (July 26); Paul Watkins, the magnificent cellist of the renowned Emerson String Quartet (Aug. 4); and Hina Khuong-Huu, the fabulous violinist and winner of the Elmar Oliveira International Competition (July 21).”

Conducting those three concerts, Figueroa will add the Family Concert on July 24, the first Pops Concert on July 27, and a new addition titled “Classical Hit Parade” on Aug. 2. He will also perform in various chamber concerts.

On Aug. 4, the 38th season will close. After Figueroa conducts Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, there will be a reception, so let’s gather and say: Well done. Hail and Farewell.

Guillermo Figueroa and Executive Director Angie Beach in the MiTM office in front of the programs from 2007 and 2008 when he began his role as artistic director and conductor. (Judith Reynolds)
Guillermo Figueroa

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 5, 1953, Guillermo Figueroa grew up in a musical family.

“My grandfather was a composer and teacher,” he said. “My grandmother was an accomplished pianist and teacher. Together they had 13 children of which eight survived. All became serious musicians.”

In the second Figueroa generation, five brothers, José, Narciso, Jaime, Rafael and Guillermo (Figueroa’s father) studied first at home and later at Puerto Rico’s Conservatory of Music. They formed a quintet and after additional study in Paris and Madrid, they became Puerto Rico’s official chamber music ensemble, the Brothers Figueroa Quintet. The three daughters of the second generation all became serious pianists, Figueroa said.

“Over the generations, our family may be one of the biggest musical families in history,” he said.

Figueroa is part of the third generation of musicians along with his cousins Narcisco (violin), Rafael (cello) and his older sister, Ivonne (piano). They have often performed together. In 2009, Ivonne played the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A under her brother’s baton with the Festival Orchestra.

Figueroa married Valerie Turner, a native New Yorker and fellow musician. They have three daughters: Giovanna, Sofia and Valeria.

Figueroa is the music director of the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus as well as the Lynn Philharmonia in Florida, and is the founder of the Figueroa Music and Arts Project in Albuquerque. Before his career in the Southwest took flight, he was concertmaster of the New York City Ballet and a founding member and concertmaster of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with more than 50 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon.

An accomplished violinist as well as an experienced conductor, Figueroa has sustained a long career in chamber music. Over the years, he has performed world premieres of four violin concertos written for him: in 1995 by Mario Davidovsky at Carnegie Hall; in 2007 by Harold Farberman at Avery Fisher Hall; in 2008 by Miguel del Aguila in Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque; and in 2009 by Ernesto Cordero with the Solisti di Zagreb in Croatia. Figueroa will be on stage as a chamber musician in several of the concerts in 2024. Check the website for details.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.