As a kid growing up in Temple, Texas, Eric Garcia dreamed of being a rock musician. He got his first drum set at age 4, and by 10 he was jamming to the radio dial — jazz, rock, pop.
Then one day he happened on a classical station and his rock ’n’ roll dream flipped on its head.
“I was completely captivated,” Garcia says, but living in a small Texas town, his options were limited.
“I’d buy a new classical CD every week, watch PBS and check out scores from the library,” he says. “Any concert I could get to or see, I found myself studying the conductor.”
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He set his sights on the podium, and he kept his drum set. Garcia studied classical percussion and composing as an undergrad at University of Texas, Austin, learning to break down scores. He earned his master’s in conducting at Northwestern University.
Garcia will lead the Boise Philharmonic this weekend. He is the sixth of seven candidates for the Boise Phil’s music director position, vying to replace Robert Franz after his eight years at the orchestra’s helm.
Garcia currently is the director of orchestral activities and an associate professor of conducting at the Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University. He’s had a diverse career that includes being an assistant conductor at the Seattle Symphony and is a frequent guest conductor in the Northwest.
He’s also worked with pop and rock musicians such as Brandi Carlile, Pink Martini and Herbie Hancock, and collaborated with composers such as John Adams, Sergio Assad and George Crumb.
As much as he continues to love composing, “it was never as exhilarating as conducting,” he says. “Boise is an exceptional orchestra in a dynamic community. The arts feed off of one another, and a symphony is a vital player. It reaches out to the youth and to the community to ignite their imagination and encourage them to open their ears, and stretch their imaginations to things that are possible.”
Each candidate created their program based around an assigned soloist and concerto. Garcia drew internationally renowned American violinist David Kim to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
“The Tchaikovsky is a cornerstone of the repertory, and David is one of our great violinists in the world,” Garcia says. “I wanted to surround it with equally great music, so I created an all-Russian program.”
He turned to Shostakovich and Prokofiev, two composers who worked under the influence and threat of Stalin.
“I’m fascinated with that era,” Garcia says. “Before Stalin, composers wrote music as an expression of their feelings. No one was capable of escaping his wrath.”
Like many artists, Shostakovich was persecuted by Stalin. His career was thwarted, his family and friends imprisoned or killed. And you can hear the composer’s strife in most of his music.
Many of those same things happened to Prokofiev.
“But you don’t sense any of that in his music,” Garcia says. “Herein lies a great contradiction. He was facing political opposition from Stalin, but we don’t hear the great suffering and drama in the music. What we get is a hymn to the nobility of the human spirit. It’s positive, ebullient. It’s music of unparalleled melodic invention and athleticism.”
It’s also a highly virtuosic piece that will showcase the musicians, Garcia says.
Garcia picked Shostakovich’s joyous five-minute Festive Overture for the opener.
“In this work, there is no decisiveness or sarcasm,” he says. “It’s spontaneous music, just right for this festive occasion. There’s an opening fanfare and then explosive passages. I feel quite honored to be performing with the Boise Philharmonic, and this is a celebration of that.”
Boise Philharmonic with Eric Garcia, conductor, and David Kim, violin
8 p.,m. Friday, March 10, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa; 8 p.m. Saturday, March 11, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. Tickets: $22.50-$45 in Nampa, $24.50-$70.50 in Boise. BoisePhil.org. Preconcert lectures are 7 p.m. both nights.