When Carlos Agreda auditioned to become the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s new music director last March, he expected it to be just another audition. That didn’t happen.
“I’d not heard of the orchestra before. I didn’t know anything about it,” Agreda said. He’d been working with Yannick Nezet-Sequin (Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director) for the last three years at Curtis Institute as a conducting fellow and found out about the orchestra only at the audition. Almost 80 people applied for the job but only three were asked to audition, he said.
“They had me run a rehearsal, first with a piece the group had already played, so they were familiar with it and then with a new work — Bernstein’s Suite from the ‘Fancy Free’ ballet,” Agreda said.
But the audition committee was looking for someone with more than great stick technique and an ability to run a rehearsal.
“They wanted someone passionate for education and symphonic music, and I think they got that in me,” Agreda said.
He debuts on Saturday with the season opener in a program of Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rossini and Revueltas.
Agreda fell in love with classical music, especially that played by an orchestra, by listening to the hundreds of discs his father had, he said.
Born in Columbia 27 years ago, he started on piano at seven, but even by his undergraduate years at Corpas University in Bogota, he’d become intrigued with the idea of becoming an orchestral conductor. In 2013, he gained international attention when he reached the third round of Spain’s Cadaques Orchestra International Conducting Competition — the youngest of seven candidates. The next year after he won a competition for young Colombian conductors, his career took off and he began working as a conductor with various orchestras in Colombia and the United Kingdom, earning a reputation for repertoire versatility, particularly with new music.
Several assistant conductorships followed with orchestras in England and the United States, but it’s been working with Nezet-Seguin that has thrilled him.
“He’s a fantastic person,” Agreda said. “Just being around him and learning what he does musically and as a person.”
He also can’t wait to settle into his new role.
“I was happily surprised from the first downbeat at the audition,” he said. “That revealed everything. The response was so positive and immediate that I could feel and hear their big potential. Now that we’ve been rehearsing, they’re already sounding fantastic.”
He chose Saturday’s program with an ear for what the musicians need to learn.
“This is a traditional program but they need to play these type of pieces,” Agreda said. “For instance, the Revueltas is a challenge in a different way from the Dvorak both rhythmically and with its interesting meters. In spring it will be Tchaikovsky and two Brazilian pieces.”
As a new music director and still developing his career, Agreda said he’s glad that this orchestra is a youth orchestra.
“A youth orchestra is open to new ideas; they’re eager to grow, to enjoy and to have fun and they’re always learning,” he said. “I could see even at rehearsal that they had commitment at a high level. They were having serious fun. I’m honored to work with them, their talent and their potential.”
Agreda will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.
Empire State Youth Orchestra
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 518 382-7581; www.esyo.org