WSO to Welcome Music Director Candidate Andrés Franco

Editor’s note: We are changing up our WEEasked series a few times over the next several months, asking specific questions to the candidates vying for the position of Wheeling Symphony music director. There are five conductors in the running, and each one will have a shot at answering the same questions, with the answers posting a few days before their concert.

Music has always been part of Andrés Franco’s life — from the time he was a child traveling around Columbia with his ethnomusicologist father (an ethnomusicologist is one who studies music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it) to taking piano lessons to getting his master’s degrees in piano and orchestra conducting. He especially loves jazz, but appreciates all genres thanks to growing up in a musical household.

Andrés Franco

And, he’s a coffee nut — “always striving to pull the perfect espresso shot,” he said. He even travels with freshly roasted coffee beans!

Franco is currently serving as music director of the Tulsa, Okla., Signature Symphony and as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

He is looking forward to his time in Wheeling, and if chosen as music conductor, will work toward connecting with the community.

“I believe an orchestra is a large family, from the patrons and donors, to the board, musicians and staff, to all whose lives are changed because of music. And my role is to get to know each one of those groups and find ways to strengthen our bonds,” he explained

The community is invited to join Franco at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at The Capitol Theatre as he conducts “An Evening of Music From the Imperial City,” with guest violinist Alexi Kenney.

Here is what Andrés said when WEEasked:

1. Tell us about yourself. Include a brief biography, sharing some highlights of your professional career, training and education.

I was born into a family of musicians, so music was always part of my life. My father Jorge is an ethnomusicologist and traveled around Colombia — where I was born — recording music. He got me started on the piano. After [I won] a top prize in a national piano competition, Jose Feghali — one of the judges and the winner of the 1985 Cliburn Competition — invited [me] to come to the U.S. to study with him at Texas Christian University. During my time at TCU, I took up conducting as an elective. I didn’t know it yet, but conducting would become my passion! I earned a master’s in piano and one in orchestral conducting. Since then I have been fortunate to conduct orchestras around the world and to meet so many wonderful people through my work. I am especially excited to come to Wheeling this season and to get to know the city and community better.

2. Tell us something personal you’d like your audiences to know about you.

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I am a coffee aficionado and always striving to pull the perfect espresso shot. I usually travel with freshly roasted coffee beans, a hand grinder, a kettle and a manual espresso machine. (I know it is a bit much!). My wife Victoria [who is associate principal clarinetist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra] and I enjoy cooking together, throwing dinner parties, reading, traveling and going on hikes with our dog Beni.

3. How do you see yourself incorporating the changing landscape of orchestral music with the Wheeling Orchestra?

I truly believe music is for everyone to enjoy! Music has the power to capture our imagination, nourish our spirit and bring us closer together. I believe programming well-rounded seasons representing many styles of music is key. Our audiences inspire us to keep finding ways to bring music to the community. As the landscape changes, we need to find ways to continue bringing great music to everyone.

4. How do you see the community playing a part in the role of the Wheeling Symphony’s music director?

Everything we do in an orchestra — from the concerts in the main series, to the outreach and education initiatives — we do for the community. And we are of course an integral part of it. As music director of the Wheeling Symphony, my role would be to connect with our community, and to find ways to nurture and strengthen our relationship with all constituents. I believe an orchestra is a large family, from the patrons and donors, to the board, musicians and staff, to all whose lives are changed because of music. And my role is to get to know each one of those groups and find ways to strengthen our bonds.

5. Who is your favorite composer? Why?

There are too many to list! I always try to fall in love with the piece and composer I am performing at any given time, after all, it is my job to do so! But if I had to choose one, just one, it would be Bach. It is mind-boggling how he could create music so complex, so intellectual and, at the same time, so expressive and beautiful.

6. What’s your favorite non-classical music style?

Jazz. I love Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Cécile McLorin-Salvant.

7. What’s on your current playlist?

I grew up in a household where all genres were played on a regular basis — from classical and jazz, to folk and popular. So, there is a little bit of each: jazz, classical, bluegrass, heavy metal, tango, Broadway … you name it.

8. What else would you like to share with Weelunk readers?

I am very excited to spend time in Wheeling working with your wonderful musicians and getting to know the community. And I would love to meet your Weelunk readers. See you at the concert!

For more information about Thursday’s concert, read Saturday’s story about “An Evening of Music From the Imperial City.”