In Conversation with Eric Garcia

An orchestra’s music director guides the artistic vision for the organization, which extends well beyond the podium. This week I had the chance to catch up with Eric Garcia, Boise Phil’s music director, to dig into the nuances of his work and learn more about the ways that he has had to adapt to our shifting landscape.











Laura R: Let’s start from the beginning. What is your musical origin story?

Eric G: I grew up listening to pop and rock music – I was a product of the early ‘80s MTV culture.  I started playing drums at age five and had every intention of being a professional rock drummer.

LR: At what point in your musical journey did you discover conducting and how did you know it was your path?

EG: I fell in love with classical music around the age of 10. Upon discovery, I was obsessed. I listened to all styles and genres. I read every biography I could get my hands on. Also, I started composing – later studying composition in college. Watching conductors like Bernstein, Ormandy and Karajan inspired me beyond measure. I began to understand their role as a conductor by watching what they did and, more importantly, what they did not. I loved practicing piano and performing as a classical percussionist, but I ultimately came to find that conducting was the most fulfilling way to express myself through music.

LR: For all artists, but I imagine for conductors especially, this pandemic has dramatically altered how you work and create. What has been the biggest shift for you?

EG: A conductor makes no sound. We can only make music through collaboration with performing musicians. Because I’ve been unable to perform concerts during this time, I have had a vast amount of silence. On a personal note, I have been able to jump into the complete short stories of Chekov (my favorite Russian writer), watch a treasure trove of one of my idol filmmakers, Chantal Akerman, and go on long and relaxing walks with my wife and two dogs.

I spend the majority of my time constructing our new season, score studying, and practicing piano. And I have had a considerable amount of time reflecting on the role of music in our society. I have never believed with more conviction that music holds an inimitable and vital presence in our lives. Music heals, soothes, comforts, and it ignites ideas and our imagination.  We are incomplete without music and all of the arts and humanities. They enable us to communicate in the most remarkable of ways.

LR: Adjusting to our new COVID-19 landscape has meant rethinking what it means to be an orchestra and what our concert season will need to be. Can you share more about how you approach programming a concert? What or who inspires you?

EG: My process usually begins with thinking about one work – a prelude, a concerto, a symphony, anything. A work that sparks excitement or generates a flow of ideas. What inspired the work, or what did it inspire? Sometimes there may be opposing aspects between pieces that accentuate qualities of each piece. These qualities will often create an incredibly exciting and unexpected musical dialogue.

I love visiting the MoMa, Guggenheim and IFC Film Center in New York City. Observing the curation of great art and film is a never-ending source of inspiration for me.

LR: While you’re preparing a work with the orchestra, how do you handle interpretation differences between the performers and yourself?

EG: If I encounter an interpretation that differs from my own, I always listen and consider how it fits into my broader vision of the work. It may add in its way to the larger picture, and I will very happily embrace the interpretation. After all, our art thrives on the spirit of collaboration!

LR: To baton, or not to baton (and why?), that is the question.

EG: Both! In certain circumstances, the baton enhances the connection between the musicians and conductor. While other times, the hands better accomplish the connection. In general, the smaller the ensemble, or the more intimate the music, hands feel more natural.

LR: In our current world, we’ve all had to quickly adopt new technologies. Some may rejoice that and others may loathe it, but I’m curious about what kinds of apps or tech gadgets you might be using that have helped you explore music in new and exciting ways?

I embrace all technology. The world is at your fingertips. A must on my iPhone is a metronome that subdivides. If you look at my computer and television, you will find any streaming service you can imagine. The ability to watch a performance of Mahler 7, The Bicycle Thief, and Seinfeld from my rocking chair is a delight!

LR: Final question. What advice do you have for aspiring conductors (of any age)?

EG: Read everything, listen to all kinds of music, and have other interests that drive you. Don’t just be a musician. You want to find beauty and inspiration everywhere. To quote Virginia Woolf, “If you are losing your leisure, look out! — It may be you are losing your soul.” Being a musician is the never-ending study of culture, geography, politics, languages, and everything in between. Last but not least, be willing to be vulnerable and always have a curious and receptive mind!