The conductor of a live orchestra leads not only the musicians but also, by intuition, the audience. It is a delicate interplay, one that has the conductor coordinating more than 60 or so musicians to bring out the spirit of the composer’s piece while, with his back turned to the audience, ensuring that they can feel the soaring Romanticism of a symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven or the discordant drama of an Igor Stravinsky composition. “Getting to the soul of the music is what you are doing,” says Carlos Miguel Prieto, the music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also its principal conductor.
Founded in 1991 by former musicians of the New Orleans Symphony, the LPO is the only player-owned and collaboratively managed professional symphony in the U.S. Prieto joined the LPO in 2005, following Klauspeter Seibel, who was the orchestra’s music director for nine seasons and is currently a principal guest conductor for it. (Other LPO conductors include Rebecca Miller, resident conductor, and David Torns, a guest conductor.)
A native of Mexico, Prieto comes from a musical family – his father, Carlos Prieto, is a cellist and conductor, and at a young age, Prieto played the violin in the family’s Cuarteto Prieto, a string quartet that performed throughout the world. “I’ve played music all my life,” he says.
While his secondary education took place in the U.S. – he has degrees from Princeton and Harvard universities – Prieto has strong ties to his native land: He is the music director of the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico and Orquestra Sinfónica de Minería – in addition to his positions at the LPO and as the music director of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. Prieto is a highly sought-after conductor, and has made guest appearances throughout the U.S. (the prestigious Tanglewood Festival, for example), Europe and Latin America. He is one of the two principal conductors for the Youth Orchestra of the Americas.
It is a busy life for Prieto, but he’s dedicated to bringing the passion and joy of classical music to New Orleans and the Gulf South region. Since he joined the LPO, he has shaken up the orchestra’s musical offerings: While the LPO still performs classical favorites, Prieto has started to add some more challenging and modern compositions, as well as expand it reach to a younger crowd with family concerts and open rehearsals. Even “The Music of Pink Floyd” is part of the 2009/’10 season.
The LPO’s schedule this season is an interesting blend – one that will keep loyal LPO fans intrigued, yet attract a new audience – allowing Prieto and the LPO musicians to reinvent what an orchestra means to a community.
In October, Prieto will be conducting “Yo-Yo Ma Plays Schumann” on Oct. 18. For a full schedule, visit www.lpomusic.com.
Profession: Music Director, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Age: 43 Born: Mexico City, Mexico Family: Wife, Isabel Mariscal, a retired ballerina, who performed with the Mexico City Ballet; two children, Ana, 5, and Cecilia, 3; and another child on the way. Education: A degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University and an MBA from Harvard University Favorite book: It’s impossible to say, because I read a lot, and I have many favorite authors. I am currently reading An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro. Favorite movie: I watch a lot of movies. I like Woody Allen movies, especially his last one, Whatever Works.
Favorite TV show: “The David Letterman Show” Favorite food: French food Favorite restaurant: In New Orleans, Galatoire’s; in Paris, Chez Allard Favorite music: I listen to it all, but mostly classical. It could be recitals, opera, whatever catches my fancy. Favorite vacation spot: Skiing in Colorado or going to the beach in Mexico Hobby: Reading and sports in general (watching and playing)
What does a music director do? I am the musical head of the orchestra … I decide on the programming and the musical direction of the orchestra.
What is your mission with the LPO? To expand the audience, and to impact the orchestra musically and financially.
I would like to double, triple the audience. We currently have an audience that’s loyal, but I want to greatly expand and diversify the reach – the age, racial [makeup].
The orchestra needs a bigger budget and more community support. To better compensate musicians – we have a fantastic orchestra, musically.
The orchestra has 67 highly qualified [full-time] musicians that go through a lengthy and challenging audition process, and they are not compensated [in par] with other city orchestras.
How much does the LPO practice during the season? The orchestra practices every week, as the orchestra plays every week [of the 36-week] season. There are four rehearsals leading up to a performance.
If you are conducting, do you have a specific pre-concert ritual? I dress the same way. I don’t smoke. I eat a banana and drink a lot of water. I never eat dinner before a concert. And I relax. When I am conducting, I give it all I have.
What conductors do you admire? I admire many, so it’s hard to pick. I like the musicality of Leonard Bernstein, and what he meant to the U.S. – he brought music to the people.
Do you still play the violin? Yes, I still play with my family’s string quartet. We’re not professional, but good.
True Confession: I like to go to [New Orleans] Hornets games with my wife.