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Costa Rica’s Giancarlo Guerrero wins Grammy

February 25, 2011

On the night he was up for a Grammy, Giancarlo Guerrero had plans in Belgium. Guerrero, a Costa Rican, was guest-conducting the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra. But in the early hours of Feb. 14, he received an e-mail from a friend that said, “You did it.”

“It” meant that Guerrero would be expected back in the United States to reunite with his Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO) as the proud new owner of the U.S.’s most prominent music award.

Guerrero, 41, won a Grammy for orchestral performance of the year at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13. He led his orchestra to three Grammy wins out of four nominations for his group’s interpretation of Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony, “Deux Ex Machina.”

“I think a lot of how you conduct and how you make music is a reflection of who you are,” Guerrero said in a phone interview. “I am grateful every day for the opportunity to make music. To me it is a great honor and privilege. A lot of that energy gets transmitted to the audience. There’s nothing like a live performance.”

He first fell for music as a member of Costa Rica’s Youth Symphony. Guerrero was born in Managua, Nicaragua, but during the civil war there his family fled to Costa Rica. He was 10 when he arrived in San José. He was 11 when he saw his first concert (his teachers in the Youth Symphony were playing in the National Symphony Orchestra). Guerrero knew he wanted a career doing what he saw his instructors do on stage. He started as a percussionist before becoming a conductor.

Along the road to Nashville, Guerrero picked up conducting experience in Eugene, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the U.S., and with Venezuela’s beloved national youth symphony program, known as “El Sistema,” or the System. 

He had guest-conducted once for Nashville when the symphony orchestra’s director, Kenneth Schermerhorn, died suddenly in 2005. After a two-year search for a new full-time director, Guerrero earned the position due to several more impressive turns as a guest conductor at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Guerrero took over the orchestra for the 2009 season. He has already begun to record the orchestra’s next album and wants to expand the symphony’s exposure. The NSO plans to go on tour, and Guerrero has booked a performance at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City. He speaks with a lot of flair when discussing his ambitions for the orchestra. And the Grammy seems to justify those high expectations.

“What happens today at the Grammy Awards really shows that Giancarlo Guerrero is the right choice as our music director,” symphony president and CEO Alan Valentine told The Tennessean, on the night of Guerrero’s win.

The Superman-inspired Metropolis Symphony was Guerrero’s first recording with the symphony. He worked closely with Daugherty in interpreting the piece. Guerrero hoped to show off a contemporary piece in a classical world dominated by centuries-old masters like Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin.

Guerrero loves the legends too, but, as a concert enthusiast, his favorite performances are not just limited to the classical genre. Guerrero said he’s learned just as much from attending Bruce Springsteen shows or Hannah Montana concerts with his daughters as any classical performance. He loves that a stroll down the street from the Schermerhorn concert hall will take him to a honky-tonk bar where he can watch a bluegrass show.

He also enjoys his excursions to Costa Rica. He vacations with his family here every summer. It’s a time to relax, and take a break from his lifestyle that has him traveling the world.

Guerrero has also guest-conducted in Costa Rica. He knows every musician in Costa Rica’s National Symphony Orchestra on a first-name basis. And even though he’s listened to them play for 30 years, Guerrero can’t resist seeing the orchestra perform every time he returns to his adopted homeland.

“All concerts should be particular events,” Guerrero said. “Every single concert should not be taken for granted. We owe it to our audience to always give them 200 percent.”

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