By ECO Concertmaster Maureen Conlon Gutierrez
I was five years old and utterly mesmerized by the gorgeous violinist wearing a beautiful red gown soloing live on PBS with the Boston Pops Orchestra and John Williams conducting. “I want to be her when I grow up,” I declared at that moment. Many years and thousand of hours of practice later, I may not have the career of that violinist, Anne Akiko-Meyers, but I have had the opportunity to play in more countries than I could have dreamed of and reached many of my musical goals. Most significantly, I am doing what I love and for that I am extremely grateful.
Having been born and raised in the heart of Mexico (of American father and Mexican mother), training to be a classical musician was as odd as snow skiing in Miami! My early musical training was very rudimentary at best and about 5 years after I started I was ready to give up. At that point, a Cuban violist/violinist decided to take me under his wing. My parents would drive me to lessons 1-3 times a week to a city about 80 miles away for about 5 years. While all kids my age played or did very little, I practiced 5-6 hours a day, taught lessons so I could afford this, went to school, taught choir, drama, dance, and music appreciation at a private school preschool through high school, and performed. Most importantly, I loved it! Weird kid, I know. My teacher’s Russian training really challenged and pushed me to improve. I wasn’t very good at all, but I began giving professional recitals at the age of 15. People actually paid to see/hear me play and I was having an absolute ball!!
I knew that if I wanted to continue to improve I would have to leave the country, so I decided to start auditioning at various music schools in the United States. The process was painful and very eye-opening to the fact that I was extremely behind everyone else my age. It would be tough to get into a decent music school especially having absolutely no money. As I applied and hoped, a sudden miracle: The ShepherdSchool of Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas had accepted me with a full scholarship! I, of course, was beside myself. My new professor, Kenneth Goldsmith, in many ways gave me the chance to be a professional violinist that opened doors beyond my expectations. He patiently worked through all my bad technique habits and re-taught me all the basics of good violin playing. Over four years I went from sitting in the last stand of the second violins to the very front of the firsts. Orchestra was a very foreign concept to me when I arrived at college. The largest ensemble I’d ever had the opportunity to play was an octet since the number of us even attempting to play a stringed instrument was slim. I had a lot of catching up to do. It was certainly a trial and required much persistence and little sleep. It is nice to move past those years, but I am still learning.
I continued on to Penn State University for my Masters degree and there had the opportunity to meet and play side-by-side with the former Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster, Andres Cardenes. He invited me to study with him that fall at Carnegie Mellon University and that is how I landed in Pittsburgh. I often say that he added the color to my black and white painting! His perspective on sound and color opened my eyes to endless possibilities and am excited to spend the rest of my life exploring!
My auditions for the Pittsburgh Symphony have led me to become a regular substitute at the PSO, including joining them on several tours of Asia, Europe, and Canada. In addition, my piano trio Nova Mundi, has toured in Latin America, Africa, and the US. I have a lot of experience at packing and making hotels feel like home!