On performance night, Maestro Hector Guzman (’83) arrives early at the symphony hall to take advantage of the solitude before the program begins. As the musicians arrive and begin to warm up, their instrumental cacophony sounds comforting to Guzman’s trained ear, as does the growing hum emanating from arriving audience members.
Soon the stage calls begin and the concertmaster tunes the orchestra. Once he takes the podium and raises his baton for the first downbeat, he knows that, even after nearly 30 years of conducting, only those first notes of the music will chase the butterflies from his stomach. “I’m the first one to experience sounds from the orchestra,” says Guzman, who earned his Master of Music degree in instrumental conducting at SMU.
Guzman is music director of the Irving, Plano and San Angelo Symphony Orchestras in Texas, as well as the Jalisco Philharmonic in his native Mexico, where he recently won the Mozart Medal, the country’s highest honor for excellence in music.
He also has served as guest conductor of symphonies throughout the world, including the Czech Republic, Italy, Japan and Spain. “Each orchestra has unique characteristics according to the musicians’ abilities, repertoire and even the local culture,” he says. “A first rehearsal reveals what adjustments must be made to accomplish the program.”
Guzman began his musical career on the piano at age 5; as a teen he switched to the organ, preferring the instrument’s fuller sound. But it was after conducting a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” at Mexico City’s Conservatory of Music at age 17 that he discovered his passion. Conducting provides an opportunity to express his love for the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Mozart, he says. “Music is noble and universal; it touches the heart in a way nothing else can.”
After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of North Texas, Guzman followed former UNT conducting teacher and adviser Anshel Brusilow to SMU, where many of the music faculty also are musicians with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. “All of this helped me develop as a musician,” he says.
Alessio Bax (’96), a pianist on the Meadows School of the Arts faculty who has performed with Guzman, notes his “wonderful ability to consider a soloist’s vision of a piece and to merge it, without compromise, into a musically coherent performance.”
To inculcate younger audiences into the art of listening to classical music, Guzman stages youth concerts and public school performances with age-appropriate programs. For example, a musical program with a magic theme might include “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by the French composer Dukas, made famous in Walt Disney’s animated film “Fantasia,” and current selections from the soundtracks of Harry Potter movies.
One day Guzman says he would like to direct only one orchestra while continuing to serve as guest conductor for major ones. “I’m shooting for the stars.”