Arizona ArtBeat: Conductor Tito Muñoz

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At the age of 31, Tito Muñoz has been lauded as one of the most talented conductors of his generation. Muñoz was recently named as music director for the Phoenix Symphony and will talk about his new role and his work as a conductor.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on this special music edition of "Arizona Horizon," we meet renowned conductor Tito Munoz, the new music director of the Phoenix symphony. And we'll visit with legendary solo artist and E Street Band guitarist, Nils Lofgren. That's next on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to the special music edition of "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. We begin tonight by meeting Tito Munoz, one of the most talented conductors of his generation.

Ted Simons: Munoz was recently named music director of the Phoenix Symphony. Here to talk about his new role is Tito Munoz. Boy, it's good to have you here.

Tito Munoz: Pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: Any previous experience in Arizona, Phoenix, southwest?

Tito Munoz: The two Tedes I've visited to conduct the orchestra for basically my audition, yes.

Ted Simons: This is still kind of new to you.

Tito Munoz: This is still very new to me.

Ted Simons: Excited?

Tito Munoz: Yeah, it's hot, very hot here.

Ted Simons: I'm going to ask questions because I can.

Tito Munoz: Sure.

Ted Simons: You are the new music director, what does a music director do?

Tito Munoz: Aside from what a conductor normally does, coming into a situation with a new orchestra and guiding musicians through a program of music. We give the concerts, try to achieve a high level, try to build on something we might have worked on before. Essentially with a music director, because it will be a situation where I'm going to see the orchestra much more frequently, all throughout the year, then my goals will not just be the concert, they will be far-reaching goals, trying to build on artistic accomplishments that we've had as further reaching. Aside from that, it's also just helping the orchestra as an organization achieve more of an audience throughout the community, and be part of the community and get more people excited about classical music.

Ted Simons: Can orchestral music -- it is so steeped in tradition, every Tede a new CD comes out it kind of sounds like the last CD.

Tito Munoz: Yes, right.

Ted Simons: Can it be advanced and, if so, how?

Tito Munoz: I think it's the way the music is presented, just like a museum presents new ways of what they already do. We all know Van Gogh is a great painter, just like Beethoven is a great composer. Giving the audience a relatable way to see what those things are. I don't think it's just the music; the way we present it needs to be updated.

Ted Simons: Interesting. As a conductor, there's one person moving seems like more than all the others and it's you, the conductor.

Tito Munoz: Yes.

Ted Simons: When the performance is being done, what does the conductor actually do?

Tito Munoz: That's very good question. It way I like to explain it is it is very similar to what a director of a play, a movie would be doing. Which is of course they have their people, their actors, their people interpreting a script. And the director would have to have the script in front of them and know exactly what they want to get out of it. The conductor is the same thing. We have a score, the music, and we want to get something out of it. We have our talented musicians that actually do it. Because rehearsal Tede is very short and because we've been trained to kind of be able to follow gesturings, we do some of our directing actually in real Tede at the concert. You're seeing is a conductor trying to convey to musicians what to do and how to do it. I mean, of course they can read. There's a certain kind of spontaneity and interpretation that needs to be conveyed to them.

Ted Simons: So if I'm in the audience and I elbow the guy next to me and I go, that's a great conductor. Why am I saying that's a great conductor, what am I looking for?

Tito Munoz: Well, you're hearing. When you hear something visceral and you hear something that really connects with you, and you hear the musicians connecting with you, really that's the most important thing. The musicians themselves are connecting with the audience. You see my back. My job is not the audience, my job is the musicians. My job is try to get them to play as best they can so that they connect with you.

Ted Simons: SO, in a certain way that a director may be known for action pictures another for drama and another one for comedy. There are conductors, all kind of have to do is make a little movement and the whole thing jumps, or they are very demonstrative. It's basically similar to that?

Tito Munoz: It's similar to that. Leonard Bernstein was known as a very demonstrative conductor, jumped around and everything. But one of his teachers, one of the teachers he used to have was Fritz Reiner, who was the famous conductor of the Chicago symphony orchestra for many year and Fratz Reiner was known to have the smallest gesture possible, I mean just really just tiny, tiny, tiny and Bernstein would talk about this and it was incredible that he could have the smallest gesture and in the moment he raised his hand, the sound that poured over the orchestra because, this is all relative of course, yet Bernstein was the complete opposite. Bernstein Bernstein couldn't help but be so emotive with his gestures. I think everyone finds their own way.

Ted Simons: The audience is back, they sense that, they can feel that.

Tito Munoz: Absolutely.
Ted Simons: Can a great conductor lead an average orchestra inand can an average or pedestrian conductor lead a great orchestra? I would think one would pull up the other.

Tito Munoz: That's true. The learning curve of an orchestra, you know, if we take your example of a great conductor leading a not so great orchestra, most likely the learning curve is going to be huge. Because an experienced conductor will know how to get the best out of them. That's really the mark of a great conductor. Somebody who can get the best of whoever is in front of them. You might not know the difference between a great one or a mediocre one, because the great orchestra will make the difference.

Ted Simons: That's when the guy next to you elbows you and says, they can do a lot better if they had a better conductor.

Ted Simons: Obviously you started very young. Was there a moment when you were a kid, an "aha" moment when you realized this is what you were going do with your life?

Tito Munoz: I had many of them, actually. I was very lucky living in New York City. I didn't realize this until of course I left. I was afforded so many wonderful opportunities. I was going to the famed high school, if you've seen the movie "fame," it's now in Lincoln center. I was going to Juilliard on Saturday, LaGuardia high school during the week. I was playing with the New York Symphony on Sundays and everything took place basically on the campus of Lincoln center. I would commute every day, spending all my Tede at Lincoln center, going Carnegie Hall, student tickets, you know. And so my life was music. I certainly had little milestones throughout that Tede but I couldn't have imagined anything else.

Ted Simons: It's almost like a kid who gets into sports. They play the sport so much and then they wind up being good at the sport because they're all the Tede.

Ted Simons: But you have to have a talent for it. Were there people telling you know, you can go places?

Tito Munoz: I think I had a good mix of different things. I was a violinist at first. I knew I was going to a certain point on a violin. I played professionally. Conducting of course usually happens later. Leadership roles happen later in life. But I had really good opportunities and a passion for it early on. I started to plan opportunities for myself to do it. But it wasn't until I went to the Aspen music festival in Aspen, Colorado, actually very well-known with a very prestigious conducting program. I happened to be accepted at an early age, I was. But that was sort of a rite of passage to a career in conducting. I was a kid, an undergrad, didn't know anything. That was inTedidating, but at the same Tede gave me confidence by the end of the summer, maybe this is something I could do.

Ted Simons: Before we go, usually when I get classical folks in here, I always ask. Is there somebody who says, I just don't get classical music. Is there a piece you think people should listen to as a good entree into classic music?

Tito Munoz: That's a good question. That's a good question. I love Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, every Tede I hear a great performance of that, I can't imagine anybody not being gripped. It has drama, the soft side, a beautiful melody. It's such a cliché thing, the famous four notes everybody knows. If you really hear a great performance live, it's something that can grip you.

Ted Simons: And very quickly, Last question. Your favorite piece of music to conduct.

Tito Munoz: Whatever it is that week. Come in here, whatever I'm conducting.

Ted Simons: You're doing a great job already promoting. Great to meet you.

Tito Munoz: Thank you.

Tito Muñoz:Conductor and Director, Phoenix Symphony;

Rock Legend Nils Lofgren

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