Andrés Franco grew up with music — his father was his first piano teacher — but he didn’t find his way to conducting until a serendipitous turn during college.
Born in Medellín, Colombia, he came to Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University in 2000 to study piano with Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Jose Feghali for his master’s degree. He was pursuing a degree in piano performance when his college adviser suggested that he take a conducting class to “broaden his horizons,” he says. “I loved orchestral music but had no interest in conducting at the time. I took the class anyway.”
One day, his teacher asked him to cover a rehearsal with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra. He agreed, and as Franco struggled, his teacher watched from the back.
“It was a test,” says Franco, 39, and it became his passion. Franco earned a second master’s in conducting and launched into a successful career that took off quickly. He racks up debuts with major symphonies each season.
Franco will helm the Boise Philharmonic this weekend. He is the fifth of seven candidates vying for the Boise Phil’s music director position to replace Robert Franz, who decided to step down after eight years with the orchestra.
This week Franco’s been exploring Boise, working with the musicians, checking in with the Boise Phil’s Youth Orchestra and chomping at the bit to go for a hike in the Foothills.
“The mountains are so beautiful,” Franco says. “My wife (Victoria Luperi, principal clarinetist for the Fort Worth Symphony) and I love the outdoors. I’m excited to have an opportunity to explore. This community has so much to offer.”
For Franco, the turn toward this musical pursuit has shifted his life’s goals beyond just the music on stage.
“Orchestras are important in general, and not just because of the music and entertainment,” Franco says. “There is a moral role. You’re in charge of preserving cultural values. Institutions like operas, ballets and orchestras operate as catalysts for creativity, and creativity will play a bigger role in the economy of the 21st century.”
Each director candidate created three different programs around an assigned concerto. Franco drew rising cello star Edgar Moreau, who will play Edward Elgar’s beautiful and sorrowful Cello Concerto. The Philharmonic board chose the specific one that will be played.
“I was looking for a way to showcase the musicians and give myself a chance to work with as many of them as possible,” Franco says.
He chose pieces that offer hope and celebrate the richness of life to bookend the melancholy Elgar.
“The Elgar is so beautifully sad,” Franco says.
An English composer, Elgar wrote it in the aftermath of World War I and “you can feel the devastating effect it had on him,” Franco says. “It’s a very contemplative, a serious piece. So I wanted to pair it with an overture that would not be too light, but would offer hope.”
He chose Verdi’s Overture to “La Forza del Destino” (“The Force of Destiny”) a piece filled with movement and beautiful melodies, he says.
“It starts on a darker note in the same E minor key as the Elgar but it resolves with more light and hope,” Franco says.
The program wraps up with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
“The piece has a Technicolor brilliance to it,” Franco says. “There’s humor and drama, even some scary places, and it ends with a big bang. It will give us a chance to really show the orchestra’s range, both musically and emotionally.”
Boise Philharmonic with Andrés Franco and cellist Edgar Moreau
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa; and Saturday, Feb. 18, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. Preconcert talks are at 7 p.m. each night. $22.50-$70.50 at BoisePhil.org or 344-7849.