Andrés Lopera has embraced the city and the opportunity to educate and entertain its youth.
As the new assistant conductor of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Andrés Lopera often finds himself with a full plate. The 35-year-old native of Colombia joined the orchestra in September, replacing longtime associate conductor Peter Stafford Wilson. Though he had his work cut out for him, Lopera has settled in quickly, earning praise for his energy and embracing the youth-focused aspects of his post.
Like his predecessor, Lopera is front and center in the CSO’s efforts to engage and entertain Central Ohio children and families. He oversees the orchestra’s extensive offerings for young musicians, including its six youth ensembles, and conducts the Columbus Symphony Youth Orchestra, the flagship, audition-only group for students in grades 9-12.
Lopera may have a heavy workload, but, six months into the job, the emerging arts leader considers himself at home in Columbus. He relocated from Denver, where he was assistant conductor at the Colorado Symphony. “It has been a very great connection with the orchestra,” Lopera says. “We have been working together, doing the family programs, developing the Youth Orchestra. … Things have been going well.”
Tony Pierce, chief artistic officer of the Colorado Symphony, is not surprised by Lopera’s eagerness to jump into his new position. “Andres is a guy who is hungry to work,” Pierce says. “He’s hungry to improve; he’s hungry to try new things.”
Lopera’s passion for his profession goes back to his youth. When he was 12, he was introduced to his first instrument, the trombone, as part of a music program—and never looked back. He hopes to instill that same love of music in the youth he works with today. “I understood when I was little the impact that music can have in communities—every kind of community,” he says. “When you feel a good melody, something that resonates with your body, something that makes you happy, it’s kind of crazy how music can relate to everybody.”
A graduate of EAFIT University in Colombia, the University of Texas at Austin and the New England Conservatory, Lopera first gained experience working with students as a conductor at the Metropolitan Youth Symphony in Portland, Oregon. While working at the Colorado Symphony, he found time to lead the Greater Boulder Youth Orchestra.
Lopera finds a unique appeal in working with young musicians. “It’s that moment when you tell them, ‘Oh, this music has gone through all of these years and this is how we put it together,’ ” he says. “How they react to the music, and they live it and make it their own, is something that makes me very happy.”
In coming to Columbus, Lopera was challenged to fill the big shoes left by Wilson, a 28-season CSO veteran who shone on the podium before stepping down last year. Already, music director Rossen Milanov sees Lopera as an enthusiastic young leader. “His personality is always bubbling with energy,” Milanov says. “He’s capable of making what he does very contagious for the kids, and very interesting and exciting.”
Lopera enjoys leading the CSO in concerts intended for families and students. “They are such great professional musicians and … they can adjust to every kind of program that we put in front of them,” says Lopera, who, not long after arriving, conducted a Halloween concert in which he made five costume changes.
In seasons to come, Lopera would like to see more side-by-side performances featuring musicians from the Youth Orchestra and the full CSO; until Lopera’s arrival, that had not taken place in at least a dozen years. So far this year, Youth Orchestra members performed with the CSO at the Young People’s Concert on Feb. 21, and another joint performance was scheduled for the Columbus Symphony Cares About Kids, a March 9 fundraiser to support the orchestra’s education programs.
Though he has new ideas, Lopera is in no hurry to alter successful longtime programs. “You don’t want to change everything in one day,” he says. “For me, this is an opportunity to hear what the community has to say, because they are passionate about the orchestras.”
Lopera, who moved to Columbus in August, already has grown to appreciate the area’s other arts and cultural offerings. He has taken in jazz concerts and BalletMet performances—and ventured farther afield. “I really love nature, so going to Hocking Hills was very special,” he says.
Music, though, remains at the forefront. Lopera says learning an instrument is a way to harness a variety of skills—musical or otherwise. “You’re going to have your audio memory, your physical memory … your visual memory to understand all of these things that make music come together,” says Lopera, who praises the Youth Orchestra students for making time for music in their busy academic schedules. “They’re in a very competitive environment just to be the best, to have the best grades,” he says. “And then, on top of that, coming to the music.”
Of course, Lopera doesn’t expect every student musician to become a pro. “I truly believe that music creates good human beings,” he says. “I don’t need them to be professional musicians for the rest of their lives. … In music, you learn a lot of discipline that gets you moving forward.”