The 52-year-old Fort Worth Youth Orchestra has played an active role in sending many classical musicians’ careers into orbit, including that of TCU violin professor Elisabeth Adkins, former Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra music director John Giordano, and Tulsa Signature Symphony music director Andrés Franco. As of last September, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra associate conductor Alejandro Guillén is part of that enviable list.
The Colombia native immigrated to Fort Worth in 2000, following his father who was pursuing graduate-level music studies at TCU at the time. Guillén is the third generation of his family to take up a career in classical music. His grandfather co-founded the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra while both his parents are well-known musicians in that country.
During his junior and senior years attending Trinity Valley School, Guillén performed as concertmaster with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra. “Very memorable” is how he described his time there to me in a phone interview.
“I prize my experiences from those years,” he said. “I still feel young at heart, and I try to retain that sense of awe.”
Studies in violin and conducting at TCU’s School of Music followed two years later, along with lessons with TCU director of orchestral studies German Gutierrez and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Michael Shih.
“I remember [Gutierrez] telling me how music has to move and to be an act of great expression,” Guillén recalled.
Shih would focus on the “sweetness and clarity of the sound I made. I’ve been privileged to have such amazing teachers.”
During those early years, the aspiring conductor said he attended every FWSO concert he could. He paid special attention to the lilting conducting gestures of FWSO music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
With Guillén’s new position, which he balances with his current role of artistic director and conductor of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra in Indiana, he oversees many of the FWSO’s outreach programs and community concerts. Regulars to Bass Performance Hall may not be aware that the symphony orchestra performs concerts at public schools as well as homeless shelters and Boys & Girls Clubs. The role of associate conductor changes from year to year depending on the needs of the symphony, he said.
“There’s a big educational and outreach component,” to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, he said. “The associate conductor is expected to be ready to go to all of these things. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the work.”
The musicians of the FWSO appear to be in high spirits following a protracted strike that ended last year thanks to an anonymous donor. Guillén said there is something indomitable about the musicians that allowed them to weather the often tense contract negotiations.
“The orchestra has a really strong energy and sound that comes from within,” he said.
On Saturday, Jan. 27, Guillén will conduct both the FWSO and Fort Worth Youth Orchestra in the ensembles’ annual side-by-side performance at Bass Hall. The two groups have rehearsed separately and will have a brief rehearsal together before the big performance. The idea behind the annual event is to give the teenage performers a taste of what being in a professional symphony orchestra is like. On the 2 p.m. program later this month is Antonín Dvorák’s New World Symphony.
“It’s a great piece of music to expose these young musicians to,” he said. “And it is an amazing opportunity for these musicians to play side by side with professional musicians.”
While many of the young musicians will go on to pursue careers in music, most will not, he noted. The years spent studying music teach empathy and give the students a vehicle to express their emotions in a heartfelt manner. In short, he said, it makes them “better people.”
Musicians, he continued, “create beauty. In this climate we live in, politically and otherwise, it’s more important than ever.”
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra w/Fort Worth Youth Orchestra
Sat, Jan. 27, at Bass Performance Hall, 555 Commerce St, FW. $8-33. 817-212-4280.