Conductor Sees Limitless Collaborative Potential

WHEELING — With a passion for forming community partnerships, conductor Andres Franco thinks the potential for collaboration in Wheeling is limitless.

Franco, current music director of Tulsa’s Signature Symphony and associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, is one of five candidates for music director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.

He is conducting the WSO’s Masterworks concert, “A Night in Vienna,” at the Capitol Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and a pops concert, “Music of the Knights,” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22.

Franco, Timothy Hankewich, Silas Huff and John Devlin were named as finalists for the post in April. Roger Kalia was added as a candidate later.

Impressed with the musical abilities of the WSO players, Franco said, “I have a heard a lot of the orchestra. Several musicians work here in Pittsburgh as well with various orchestras. Everything I’ve heard is wonderful.”

He believes community involvement is one of most important aspects of running an orchestra. He said, “My personal goal is to make sure everyone, in every community I’m working with, knows of classical music.”

Born into a musical family that listened to all different genres, he said, “I think I grew up thinking everyone listens to great music.”

Now, as a conductor, he said, “I make sure I share that gift of music with everyone — people of all different ages, all different socio-economic groups. Classical music is for all people.”

Franco thinks conductors and musicians should be visible to the entire community throughout the year to show “how much value we bring to any particular city where we are.” He also advocates “being very proactive, making sure everyone knows of the concerts and knows they are welcome at the concerts.”

As for the conductor’s role, he said, “One of the most important issues is making sure that you understand each city or community. What may work in one city may not work in another one. You meet with as many people as possible and then start forming partnerships.”

Franco, who is in his fourth season with Signature Symphony, met with representatives of arts organizations in Tulsa during his first year to see what they could do together.

“The beautiful thing about the arts is there is a lot of potential for collaboration,” he commented.

For instance, Signature Symphony has undertaken a number of joint ventures in Tulsa with the Gilcrease Museum, which has “an amazing collection” of art representing the American West.

When the symphony performed four dances from “Rodeo,” he said, “The Gilcrease Museum allowed us to use images from their collection, some directly related to the theme and some other landscapes. We worked with a local visual artist who did animation of those images. A week before the concert, our string quartet played in front of the art (in the museum).”

The string quartet also has played during the museum’s programs for children. On one occasion, a musician played ethnic percussion instruments and African drums in a gallery featuring a collection of African art.

In addition to programs for very young children, Signature Symphony is involved in a program for people with memory loss. Franco said, “We also go to assisted living facilities, working with patients as a way to bring happiness. Music is one of the last things to go. People are no longer able to move or talk, but still are able to relate to music.”

Franco, who has a passion for coffee, also held a session called “Coffee with Andres” at a Tulsa coffee shop where vintage vinyl records are played. To promote a pops concert of music by Paul McCartney, the music director conducted a social media contest and gave albums by the Beatles as prizes.

“The albums were played while we had coffee. People came and had a chance to chat with me. I raffled some tickets,” he recalled, adding, “It’s a very low-key way for people to know the orchestra is there and part of the community.”

As part of a large community outreach program, the Pittsburgh Symphony maintains partnerships with many organizations. For instance, he said the orchestra sends musicans to work with students in Wilkinsburg schools and performs concerts in that community.

The Pittsburgh Symphony also has a program with City of Asylum, a community for writers on the city’s North Side. “We identify some concerts through the season that combine music and poetry or literature,” he said. “We bring musicians and Asylum provides writers. I am the moderator. We connect the dots between what is being read and the music.”

Regarding the potential for WSO partnerships and programs, he said, “I am sure there are things that would be specific to the Wheeling community … I think that the possibilities are limitless.”

After studies in his native Colombia, Franco won a top prize in an international piano competition. One of the jurors was Jose Feghali, a 1985 finalist in the Van Cliburn competition and artist-in-residence at Texas Christian University.

“He (Feghali) invited me to come study with him. I moved to Texas to complete a master’s in piano performance with him,” Franco said.

While at TCU, “I fell in love with conducting,” he said. Franco, who arrived in August 2000 arnd later became a U.S. citizen, finished with Master of Music degrees in piano performance and conducting from Texas Christian.

As principal conductor of Caminos del Inka, Franco has led many performances of works by Latin American composers. He served as music director of the Philharmonia of Kansas City and as associate and resident conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

He is married to Victoria Luperi, associate principal clarinetist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. They met when he joined the conducting staff at Fort Worth, where she had just started as principal clarinetist.

As a musical couple, he said, “We understand what the demands of the profession are. Classical musicians have a very different schedule from any other jobs … It definitely helps understand each other’s career and be supportive of what the other is doing.”

Franco and Luperi share similar musical tastes and love jazz and world music. “She is from Argentina. She has lived here in the States also for more than 20 years. We have many things in common,” he remarked.

When they are not rehearsing or performing, he said, “We love food and cooking. We enjoy cooking when we have time to prepare a special meal together. We love that. We love reading. We love traveling. We love wine as well.”

They enjoy visiting museums, but also like being outdoors. “When the weather is good, we love going on hikes,” he said.

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