UT Symphony Orchestra to play with Phoenix Symphony music director Tito Muñoz

Jackson Hawkins

This is Nick Nunley’s first year in UT’s Symphony Orchestra and he has never experienced a conductor like Tito Muñoz before.

“The way he gives cues is pretty quirky,” Nunley, a music education sophomore, said. “I enjoy rehearsing with him because his sense of rhythm is phenomenal. He knows all of the pieces so well and gives us awesome backstories.”

The UT Symphony Orchestra will perform four American pieces on Sept. 26 at the Bates Recital Hall. Muñoz, the former assistant conductor of the critically acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra and current music director of the Phoenix Symphony, will serve as
guest conductor. 

Gerhardt Zimmermann, director of orchestral activities, said he was excited to bring such a talented conductor to UT. 

“I wanted to pick someone who the orchestra could learn a great deal from about music making, orchestra playing and orchestral discipline,” Zimmerman said. “Tito was at the top of my list.”

Muñoz said he knew he wanted to be a conductor early on, when he was playing violin in some of the best youth orchestras in New York City. 

“I would be sitting in my section and would be frustrated if my section wasn’t playing together, but you can’t really say anything unless you are the person in front,” Muñoz said. “So it was always a goal of mine to be in positions of leadership so that I could start to implement what I felt was my vision.”

The performance Monday night contains two standards, “Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland and “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, both of which are commonly performed in America. The performance also includes works by Leonard Bernstein and Adam Schoenberg. 

“Bernstein is prominently performed in America, however his Symphony No. 1 is not usually performed even though it is a beautiful piece,” Muñoz said. “I am also bringing a work by Adam Schoenberg, who is actually a very close friend of mine.” 

After working with Muñoz for about a week, Jae Kim, a music performance sophomore and double bass player in the Symphony Orchestra, said he is fond of Muñoz’s teaching style and has already learned a lot.

“I really enjoy his passion for the music,” Kim said. “He has a very deep perception of the music, as if he knows the composer of each piece personally.” 

Zimmermann said he believes the program highlights every section of the orchestra, but has a hard time singling out his favorite piece.

“They are all quite wonderful pieces,” Zimmerman said. “But if I had to pick, I guess the Copland piece, “Appalachian Spring”, because I worked with Aaron Copland when I conducted the National Symphony on the lawn of the White House a few years back. It was quite an honor for me to work with him like that.”

Although Muñoz primarily works with professional orchestras, he said he relishes working with students because of the unique challenges they bring. 

“When you are working at a prestigious school, such as UT, you are working with talented players who are not too different from professionals — the only difference is the amount of experience they have,” Muñoz said. “Students have less experience so in a certain way they are more malleable. You have a clean slate and you can start from scratch and that is really fun because then you can really help the students discover the pieces.”