By Stephen Vargha
Augusto José Carrión has come home, so to speak. “I was here for two seasons, in 1978 to 1980,” the new consuctor of the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra said of his appointment. Carrión was a viola player for the symphony four decades ago, and his musical journey brought him back to Cuenca last month.
“Fantastic! I like this orchestra,” Carrión said. “There is a lot of talent here, and there is a lot of musicality.”
Carrión would certainly know with his background. He began his collegiate studies at Conservatorio Superior Salvador Bustamante Celi in his childhood town of Loja. It is one of Ecuador’s three public musical conservatories. The other two are Cuenca’s José María Rodríguez, and Conservatorio Superior Nacional, in Quito. He later served as a professor at the Cuenca and Quito conservatories.
Carrión was recently appointed to lead the orchestra following the departure of former maestro, Michael Meissner.
After his time as a violist for two years with the Cuenca Symphony, Carrión was invited by the musical program, Sistema Nacional de Orquestas de Venezuela (El Sistema), directed by maestro José Antonio Abreu. It is an acclaimed publicly funded, non-profit organization for children’s music education programs, from which great musical figures of the world such as Gustavo Dudamel have graduated. Dudamel is currently the music director of Venezuela’s Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
El Sistema’s foundation has given opportunity for all social and economic classes to study classical music in Venezuela. One of the Cuenca Symphony’s cellists, Yackson Sanchez, is a graduate of El Sistema. That model was then replicated in various parts of the world.
Master Carrión participated in the World Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo, Japan with the Italian conductor and composer Giuseppe Sinópoli as conductor and the Latin American Orchestra of Musical Youth, in Uruguay, with Brazilian conductor Isaac Karabtchevsky.
In 1990, Carrión became a member of the Mexican State Symphony Orchestra. Based in Mexico City. During his time with OSEM, Carrión toured Europe, China, and the United States.
Moving to nearby Toluca, Mexico, Carrión created and founded the Toluca City Council String Quartet and the Toluca Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008, of which he was its first Artistic Director. The orchestra is similar in size to Cuenca’ Orchestra. For eleven years in Toluca, he was also the director of the Esperanza Azteca Bicentenario Symphony Orchestra and the Esperanza Azteca State Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Toluca Youth Chamber Orchestra.
Graduated in Orchestral Conducting from the Royal School of Music in London, Carrión left Mexico, and became the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra’s new conductor on February 18.
He has ambitious goals for the Orchestra. His biggest is increasing the current number of musicians from 55 to 90. “I want to raise the level of the orchestra,” said Carrión. “I want more musicians in each section.”
Though in the middle of a pandemic, Carrión is confident to making this a certainty. “I am taking on projects that were pending to make the institution (symphony) grow and put itself where it deserves.” He added that he will manage the finances “to make this a reality.”
The first step to making this happen was the Ministry of Culture and Heritage appointing Ing. Patricio Torres Harris as the new Executive Director of the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. He replaced Gabriela Sánchez Racines. Harris had been the Executive Director for the symphony from 2008 to 2017, when he took advantage of retirement benefits.
Carrión is very animated and enthusiastic. It shows during his rehearsals as he sits in his chair overlooking the musicians. The maestro is constantly in motion, putting his whole body into leading the orchestra. His musicians seem to notice and respond accordingly. “It’s very important to have energy transmit from the podium to all of the orchestra,” said Carrión.
To be a part of the new energy, the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra will perform live at Teatro Pumapungo, Huayna Capac at Calle Larga, on March 18 at 7 p.m. The guest soloist will be flautist Luciano Carrera. He was the first lectern of Ecuador’s National Symphony Orchestra.
The orchestra will perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture Op 52, Johann Quantz’s Concerto in G Major, Luciano Carrera’s Nightingale of the Andes (Yaraví), and Leonardo Cárdenas’ Albazo. Admission is free, and seating will be limited due to health restrictions still in place. It is recommended that patrons arrive early to guarantee a seat for the performance.
Photos by Stephen Vargha