A world-traveling, highly acclaimed concert pianist debuts this month with the Omaha Symphony. He’s been living among us now for nearly two years, but this is his first public concert. What took him so long? Answer: he’s been exceptionally busy with the responsibilities as director of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s School of Music.
He’s Washington Garcia, who solos in Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto in the opening of this season’s Symphony Joslyn series. “I love the music’s purity and clarity, the mingling of sadness, light-heartedness and sense of triumph,” the ebullient Ecuador-born U. S. citizen enthuses. He’s also delighted to be sharing the stage with “the wonderful, thoroughly engaged Omaha Symphony” and has long been a Thomas Wilkins admirer.
As for the choice of piece, it was already part of Garcia’s repertory when he first came to town, and met David Scott, the local Embassy Suites sales director. “When I stayed there, David told me he was a music lover and member of a choir. Soon we became friends. Not long thereafter I visited his home and played some of ‘The Moonlight Sonata’ on his piano because he’s a big Beethoven fan.”
That connection, Garcia feels, is emblematic of why he loves being in Omaha. “So many good things that happen here relate to people far beyond the campus.” He cites Embassy Suites provision of accommodations for visiting artists, of which there are many, such as South Korean pianists Jason Kwak this month and Italy’s Enrico Elisi next month, Chinese percussionist She-E Wu, the Zodiac Trio, Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman, as well as flutist Carol Wincenc who performed at UNO in September.
When he chose to be part of Omaha’s musical life, starting in January 2016, Garcia said that part of the reason was being impressed with a sense of community engagement such as he had never seen elsewhere. “It’s a strong message that the University and the community are close to each other.” He cites as examples wide-spread enthusiasm for the Symphony, Opera Omaha, Ballet Nebraska and the Omaha Chamber Music Society.
Garcia strongly wants to emphasize a world-wide sense of community, such as the links with the above-mentioned visiting artists. He further seeks to express global connections, underscored by the International Concert Series which he established in April last year.
The concept affirms that music is cherished and understood across political and linguistic boundaries. A concert this month, on the 12th, is one instance. In the Rising Stars Series, a renowned mixed choral ensemble, Studiam Chorus, from Lithuania’s Šiauliai University, appears on stage with members of the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra, students from Omaha Conservatory of music and from U.N.O. Šiauliai, BTW, is an Omaha sister city.
For example, later this year Garcia performs in China. School of Music students have been going there, too, as well as Japan and Latvia, along with Lithuania. And the School has seen increasing enrollment of Chinese musicians.
Garcia believes that his pupils and all students should broaden the range of their experiences. “Traveling is one the greatest gifts a person can be given. It expands your horizons and gives you a view of the world.” He sees connecting with and adjusting to different ideas, cultures, and languages as major learning experiences, including for himself. “I often teach people who’ve been taught in different ways and I have to understand their way of thinking.”
As for his own career as a performer, he has become less active since taking over the School of Music, appearing in concerts which fit his teaching and administrative schedules. “Now I choose when and where based on how much time I can give to preparing. I’m playing as much as I want and am delighted that the University supports that.” At age 40, he looks back at spending 32 years practicing and performing along with 15 years of teaching. His first public concert was at age seven in a benefit for disabled Ecuadorean children.
Garcia is especially pleased with new things happening at the School, such as its continuing physical expansion, seeing that as a reflection of its increased role in this community. There’s a whole lot of construction going on, which Garcia sees as symbolic of the emphasis on the value of music, especially the expansion of the Strauss Performing Arts Center. By the end of next year, several thousand new square feet will encompass, among many things, acoustically-improved, more audience-friendly performing spaces. He also is excited about a highly prized new Steinway concert grand piano just donated by community members.
Garcia wants to make it clear that his life in music is now essentially dedicated to expanding the horizons of aspiring younger artists. “I’m fortunate to now be where I’m able to make a difference, to have the resources to help younger generations of artists in an inspiring environment. I’m blessed. God has given me an incredible gift…music to create and to share.”
The Symphony Joslyn concert October 8th also features Mozart’s 41st Symphony (“Jupiter”) and Telemann’s Concerto Polonaise in G at Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Hall, 2200 Dodge St. Sun. 2 p.m. Tickets: $33. www.omahasymphony.org