Enter your email address and click subscribe to receive new articles in your email inbox:

Meet Tito Munoz

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 8, 2007 - 12:00:00 AM in news_2007

Conductor Tito Munoz

Being Cincinnati Symphony assistant conductor means more than just “covering,” i.e. waiting in the wings, baton in hand, in case the scheduled conductor is unable to go on.
It can lead to that big break, as when the young Leonard Bernstein stepped in with the New York Philharmonic and launched his career at age 25.
However, it can be as small as looking for a wrong note in a score.
Earlier this week, CSO assistant conductor Tito Munoz, 23, spent an entire day tracking down a recording of John Adams’ Violin Concerto (to be performed by violinist Leila Josefowicz with guest conductor Michael Christie and the CSO Feb. 16 and 17 at Music Hall).
There was a suspicious note in the concerto that needed to be corrected or confirmed. “I had to find a recording John Adams had conducted so that I could see if that note was correct (it wasn't)."
As one of the CSO’s two assistant conductors -- the other is Eric Dudley – Munoz shares cover duties for CSO music director Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel and May Festival music director James Conlon. He is assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra (Dudley is conductor) and also participates with Dudley in “Classical Conversations” before CSO concerts and helps guide and implement the CSO’s education and outreach program. He recently spoke to the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce about the CSO.
Later this month, after only six months with the orchestra, Munoz will get his chance to conduct a CSO subscription concert, an unusual opportunity occasioned by guest conductor Krzysztof Penderecki’s cancellation. “I feel honored that Paavo and the powers that be thought of me,” he said.
Actually, it will be Munoz’ second CSO conducting appearance.
At 4 p.m. Sunday at Music Hall, Munoz will conduct the CSO in the Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend concert. The Latin-flavored program, featuring Cincinnati Ballet principal dancers Kristi Capps and Dmitri Trubchanov, will include excerpts from Bizet’s “Carmen,” Falla’s “Three-Cornered Hat” and Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
Munoz’ Feb. 24/25 CSO subscription program – accessible and family friendly – comprises Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite, Overture to Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Bruch’s G-Minor Violin Concerto with guest artist Chee-Yun.
It won’t be the first time Munoz has made a high-powered debut. In August, he bowed in with the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Festival. Munoz’ mentor, Aspen Festival music director David Zinman, is a regular guest conductor at Blossom. “Every summer he brings one or two of his students to share the program with him,” said Munoz, who led Copland’s “Quiet City.” “It was quite an experience.”
Not bad, too, for someone who heard his first orchestra concert as a student at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens. “It was a young people’s concert by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Our music teacher took us.”
New York native Munoz had no exposure to classical music as a child, he said. An older cousin, who attended the same middle school, began playing the violin. “I saw him and thought ‘that looks cool.’ I remember the first time I took the violin home. I felt like this is what I wanted to do.”
He began violin lessons at 13 and was recommended by his teacher for the Music Advancement Program at New York’s Juilliard School, a free Saturday program for African-American and Latino students, where he had violin lessons, theory, history and orchestra for two years.
“That’s what hooked me. The teachers would take us to their performances. Some played on Broadway, so we got to see what it was like in the pit.”
Munoz played in the orchestra at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and in the New York Youth Symphony under Mischa Santora (Santora, music director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, appointed Munoz CCO assistant conductor in September).
His first experience “waving my hands in front of a group for real” was at 16 at the French Woods Festival, a performing arts camp in upstate New York. “That experience I really cherish because I was basically just thrown into it. It’s very hard because you get put into a situation where you’ve got to be the boss, but at the same time you have to try to learn as much as you can. Every conducting teacher and every conductor will say that the only way to learn conducting is just doing it.”
Another key experience was leading a performance of “West Side Story” at La Guardia High School. “They do incredible productions because they get a lot of money from New York City Opera.” Munoz, who is of Columbian and Ecuadorian heritage, also played in Latin bands, where violins were used.
He majored in violin at Queens College, where he organized his own orchestra. “I had to make opportunities for myself. I put together my friends and gave concerts.” His first, Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” was “big,” he said. “I learned a lot. Nobody got paid, so it was hard to get people to come to rehearsals. After that, I learned my lesson and kept it very small. I did a string orchestra program at one point, and my violin teacher played a concerto with me.”
His Queens initiative paid off. “That’s how I made my tape to get into Aspen,” he said.
Aspen brought him to Cincinnati, where he now lives in Clifton’s gas light district.
“The Academy of Conducting at Aspen is a prestigious program, so they have a lot of connections. Somebody here contacted somebody there.” At the CSO’s invitation, Munoz auditioned with the orchestra in May, interviewed with Jarvi, the players committee and staff, and got the job over nearly 150 other applicants.
Munoz shares his New York City background with Conlon, he said.
“We went to the same high school. We had the same sort of experiences. One of the things he (Conlon) tells the conducting class at Aspen is that the most important thing at this point in your learning is having passion for music and immersing yourself in it as much as you can.” In New York, “each conservatory has a Saturday program and a pre-college program with about three orchestras. There are plenty of youth orchestras.”
It’s a natural environment. “You don’t even realize you’re immersing yourself in music,” he said.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Feb. 8, 2007)