Giancarlo Guerrero, B.M. '91
Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero began youth symphony after his family moved from the war-torn Nicaragua of his birth to Costa Rica when he was 12 years old. His parents hoped the after-school activity would keep him busy and out of trouble. It quickly became his passion and, eventually, his career.
A six-time Grammy Award-winning conductor, Guerrero is in his 13th season as music director of the Nashville Symphony in Tennessee and fifth year as music director of the National Forum of Music (NFM) Wrocław Philharmonic in Poland. He is a frequent guest conductor in several North American cities and the principal guest conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, Portugal.
“I am the poster child for the fact that classical music can influence you regardless of where you are from,” Guerrero says.
His love for classical music blossomed as Guerrero and other Costa Rican teens listened to Chicago’s WFMT on a short-wave radio after youth symphony rehearsals. They listened to orchestras from Chicago, Boston and New York play Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart.
Guerrero’s parents supported his aspirations and blessed his departure from Costa Rica for the United States at age 16. In previous years, five Costa Rican music students attended Baylor and so impressed the faculty that a pipeline was established. Guerrero, who was a percussionist, did not miss a beat when presented with the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
“Going to Waco from Costa Rica in the mid-1980s was like going from Earth to Pluto,” he says. “Culturally, it was a shock.”
The late Larry Vanlandingham, B.A. ’63, Ph.D., who was Baylor’s percussion professor at the time, helped Guerrero adjust to his new surroundings.
“Dr. V strapped a snare drum on me, threw me on the football field and made me a part of the Golden Wave Band,” Guerrero says. “Within a week, I spoke perfect English with a Texas accent and had 200 new friends, many of whom I’m still close to.”
After earning a Master of Arts from Northwestern University, Guerrero was music director in several orchestras before becoming the seventh music director of the Nashville Symphony at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. Guerrero is particularly engaged with the Nashville Symphony’s Accelerando program, which provides an intensive music education to promising young students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. He also has worked with Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, the National Youth Orchestra and the Yale Philharmonia.
“I love to spend time with young musicians because many people inspired me when I was a kid,” he says. “Being a conductor is not about waving a stick, it’s about inspiring. Dream big, and don’t hold back.”
“I always share with students when I meet with them, and even with my daughters, that I hope that they are as lucky as I’ve been,” he continues. “Early on I knew what I wanted to do. And because of it, I get to do my hobby for a living, and that is the greatest privilege I can think of.”
Guerrero says Baylor prepared him to be a citizen of the world, to be disciplined and to be generous.
“Baylor put their hands in the fire for me and for many other people from around the world because of their generous scholarship program,” Guerrero says. “Baylor gave me a chance, so it is of the utmost importance that I continue doing the same. That, more than any music class, is the most important thing I received from this incredible institution.”
2022 Alumni Award Recipients