Not just a conductor, but also a violinist and teacher, Juan Luis Muñoz started conducting as a concertmaster of a Chilean Orchestra when the conductor was away for other engagements.
“I used to take over the rehearsal for him,” recalls Juan Luis. “That’s about 38 years ago. Then in South Africa, I started to take lessons with Maestro Bernhard Gueller and then I started conducting more often around there. I founded my own chamber orchestra with young and talented South African players.”
He reveals that he didn’t choose to became a conductor. “I just do all these things in the music profession — performing, teaching and conducting,”
Conducting, though, is a love of his. “It looks like a very glamorous career,” he shares, “but it has too many problems.
“In the world of music, there are too many conductors and not too many jobs. And then, you need to have leadership skills. Finally, you need to work with many kind of personalities at the same time, so you also need to be a psychologist to be able to work well with all of them. Luckily I never had that problem working with different kinds of people, so if I’m invited to conduct, I take it and I make sure to make the experience enjoyable for everybody.”
Sometime ago, the Daily Tribune visited Juan Luis and his wife, pianist Mariel Ilusorio, at their Alabang home. For a first encounter with the couple, it was heartwarming and pleasant.
The couple, having just visited Thailand, served me some delicacies they bought in Bangkok. Over conversation, I learned a lot about their beginnings as musicians, how they met and how they’ve been able to adjust to Philippine life easily after years of staying abroad.
For Mariel, it was as simple as coming home. For Juan Luis, it was about learning and adapting to a new culture and dealing with his wife’s countrymen. As with most musical couples, though, it is music that binds them, and it is music that makes life even more wonderful.
Juan Luis recently shared with me his thoughts on the Magic Flute which he is conducting at St. Scholastica’s, with Camille Lopez Molina providing the musical direction. Performances will be on 12 November at 4 p.m. and 10 November 10 at 3 p.m. (For tickets, call 856-7786 local 2288).
Daily Tribune (DT): Can you share with us briefly your education as a musician and, eventually, as a conductor?
Juan Luis Munoz (JLM): I did my studies at the Catholic University of Chile. I studied performance degree in Violin with Maestro Fernando Ansaldi and Sergio Prieto. Then in South Africa I was concertmaster of a few orchestras and a lecturer at the Free State University where I was the leader of the Odeion String Quartet for four years. Then I was Lecturer at Rhodes University.
I did a course in education and took classes in conducting with German Maestro Berhard Gueller. Then I participated in conducting Master classes in Bulgaria with Maestro Carl St Clair from USA. As a Conductor, I conducted the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Free State Chamber Orchestra, Rhodes University Orchestra, South African Youth Orchestra, Cape Town Baroque Ensemble, New Symphony Orchestra of Sophia, Bulgaria, The Manila Symphony Orchestra, the UST Symphony Orchestra and currently the SSC Chamber Orchestra.
Taking it positively
DT: When did you arrive in the Philippines?
JLM: Officially five years ago.
DT: What is your current position in Saint Scholastica?
JLM: At SSC I’m a part time Professor in Violin and Orchestral Conducting.
DT: How did you and Mariel meet?
JLM: We met in South Africa where she replaced a colleague of mine on maternity leave.
DT: What is a typical Sunday in your home?
JLM: Today, for example, I do things in the garden, cut grass, look after my plants. Later I’m going to play soccer with my Filipino friends.
DT: In what way do you and your wife collaborate in music?
JML: Many ways, like playing together, advising each other, discussing solutions for specific problems with students in music etc.
DT: What do you tell her about her music?
JML: She asks me to critic her playing for a concert. I love her ways of playing and the way she introduces the music to the audience.
DT: What does she tell you about yours?
JML: We always make positive comments on our playing, The secret is to take it positively.
DT: What makes Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) a special opera?
JLM: Well this is my second time doing the opera. It’s a beautiful drama and the music, like any music of Mozart, is superb. Pamina’s Aria is just an amazing piece of music. Also it’s an opera for the whole family. It’s a good way to introduce the genre to first-time goers.
DT: How would you describe the music of Die Zauberflote?
JLM: It’s a beautiful love story where Prince Pamino is in love with Princess Pamina. He has to go through many tests to be able to get the love of the Princess. Also, it’s a parallel love story at the bottom of the society, with Papageno a bird catcher and Papagena, There are many funny moments during the journey. In the end, love triumphs.
DT: What are your thoughts on the music of Mozart?
JLM: Mozart’s music can sound very easy to the ear but it’s always complex to perform. It’s like a kid, sweet, light, playful, but needs a deep understanding of how to interpret it. Maybe that’s the reason why in every international competition they ask to play Bach and Mozart.
DT: Do you think Mozart was successful in this opera?
JLM: For sure, even today it is one of the most popular operas of all times.
DT: How are you approaching this particular opera?
JLM: Probably like Mozart did, make it fun, entertaining for everybody.
DT: How do you personally relate to Mozart?
JLM: I have played and studied many of his violin concertos, symphonies and string quartets.
DT: What is your advice to the performers in this opera?
JLM: Give everything and enjoy it. For many, it is their first experience singing an entire opera. For me, it is wonderful to be able to contribute to this dream for Filipino young singers.
DT: How is it like working with Camille Lopez Molina?
JLM: I discovered while talking to Camille in a departmental lunch that we have similar dreams to do things for our students and for the music scene in the Philippines. She has an enormous passion for voice literature and I think in music in general. She is a very dedicated teacher and a good leader and has a strong personality. She is very patient with her students and me. Actually I think we work well together. We can have different ideas about things but in the end, it is the music, our students and the audience who reap the benefits of this collaboration.
DT: What would you like to tell Miss Camille?
JML: That I love working with her and her husband Pablo, and thank you for sharing her love and passion for the music and the students.
DT: Of Filipino composers of yesteryears, whom do you admire?
JML: I haven’t had too much opportunities of playing Filipino compositions. But I have heard many compositions for violin and they are all very beautiful and very romantic — Abelardo, Buenaventura and Kasilag.
DT: What can you say about music education in the Philippines today?
JML: Can be better.
DT: Do you think the Philippines is a good place for classical musicians?
JML: Yes and we have so much talent all over.
DT: What do you think should be the direction of Philippine music?
JML: To make music recognized internationally because we have fantastic musicians and composers here in the Philippines.
DT: What is your wish for Filipino musicians?
JML: That they be more consistent with their work ethic and that they dream big.