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Life in the Time of Corona: Giancarlo and Shirley Guerrero Under One Roof

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Shirley and Giancarlo Guerrero, Photo by Alan Poizner/Nashville Symphony

You can’t miss Giancarlo and Shirley Guerrero in a crowd. They are gorgeous, warm, and effusive. They have embraced Nashville – and Nashville loves them right back.

Giancarlo, a six-time Grammy-Award-winning conductor, is now in his 11th season as Music Director of the Nashville Symphony. (He also serves as Music Director of the Wrocław Philharmonic in Poland and Principal Guest Conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, Portugal…)

Here’s just a bit of background, from a terrific interview with WFMT out of Chicago:

Multi-Grammy Award-winning conductor and music director of the Nashville Symphony Giancarlo Guerrero never envisioned a career as a maestro, let alone as a musician. As Guerrero says, “In many ways, I am the poster child to show that music can… become a part of your life regardless of your background.” Born in Nicaragua, Guerrero and his family fled the civil war in their home country in the late 1970s for Costa Rica.

Guerrero’s father discovered an ad for Costa Rica’s youth orchestra, and [Guerrero] eventually became a percussionist. As he progressed in his studies, Guerrero started listening to American radio via satellite cable and discovered the Chicago Symphony Orchestra broadcasts on WFMT, which he proclaims “literally changed my life as a musician. WFMT was the voice that brought the message of the CSO to Costa Rica.”

It’s been quite a journey from there to here, and Nashville couldn’t be more grateful for the energy and spirit Giancarlo – and Shirley – bring to everything they do.

Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, Giancarlo and Shirley!

What does your daily life look like in the Time of Corona? Is each day different, or much the same?

Giancarlo: The first few days of the crisis did seem very alike. Mostly following the news and learning about the virus. Eventually I realized this was an opportunity to do some projects around the house and catch up on my reading. Every day I find something new that needs to be addressed.

Shirley: I am a professional home decorator and interior designer so I’ve been keeping busy working from home.

How are your spirits?

Giancarlo: I am a very optimistic person. Although it seems we are still far from a vaccine, I am very hopeful that a proper treatment for COVID may be developed in the interim. I know this would be immensely helpful.

Shirley: I am very hopeful for a bright future. It helps that we have our whole family together under one roof.

What is hardest for you right now?

Giancarlo: It has been very hard not to be able to make music with my colleagues. I also miss playing concerts for our wonderful audiences. I can’t wait to be able to resume our musical activities.

Shirley: Having to come up with 3 different meals every day!!!!

What gives you comfort?

Giancarlo: Our oldest daughter came home from college so it has been very nice to have the whole family again under one roof. It has been a few years since I’ve heard my daughters playing and giggling upstairs. I really love listening to my family go about their lives around the house.

Shirley: Reading and browsing the internet for designing ideas.

Here are a few questions just for Giancarlo…

How are the musicians of our Nashville Symphony doing? Staff?

We are all doing as well as we possibly could be doing under the circumstances. Our musicians have been staying busy, continuing to practice, teach and perform – all from their homes. You can keep up with all of their at-home adventures (as well as my own!) on the Nashville Symphony’s social media accounts and on our website as well. Because we are unable to perform, our staff are working harder than ever to help manage the many concerns that customers have regarding their tickets for concerts that have now been canceled or postponed, and our need for fundraising is stronger than ever, of course. But we have a common purpose, and an institutional culture of creativity, innovation and resilience. We have faced many challenges in the past, and we have emerged stronger each time, so I know that, however challenging our circumstances may be, we will come through this wiser, and with a greater understanding and appreciation for how much our work matters.

What do you think lies ahead for the Symphony in the coming months?

Most immediately, we are continuing to produce more and more digital content so that we can stay engaged with our audiences, as long as we are unable to perform in person. I have launched a series of online lectures – every Wednesday at 6 pm through June, I’ll be exploring each of the Beethoven symphonies in depth. It’s his 250th birth year, and the timing is perfect for to consider his incredible artistry and the impact that he continues to have today.

And on Friday evenings at 6 pm, I’m hosting a version of our Classical Conversations, with plans to engage with many of the contemporary American composers whom we’ve performed, commissioned and recorded at the Schermerhorn.

Our musicians are exploring all the ways that they can work together and collaborate while social distancing, and we can expect to hear more performances from them in the coming weeks. We don’t yet fully understand the implications of what the pandemic will mean for our community or our industry, but we know that the most important thing we can do right now is stay connected with our audiences, while at the same time engaging in the complex and constantly shifting work of planning for an uncertain future. That means working as hard as we possibly can honor and protect the community’s investment in our institution, and doing all necessary work to ensure that, when we are able to welcome audiences back into our hall, we are doing so with their safety put first.

What are your proudest of at the Symphony right now?

I think it goes back to what I said about our culture of creativity, innovation and resilience. I am proud of everything that we have accomplished in the past, and I am every bit as proud – if not prouder – of the ways that our Nashville Symphony musicians and staff are working so hard to respond to a situation unlike any we have ever seen. Every day is a new learning opportunity for us, as we ask ourselves: How do we stay focused? How do we continue to build on our strategic thinking? How do we keep the music and the community at the center of everything we do? How do we hold on to hope in those moments when so much feels so uncertain? This last question is one that countless people throughout the course of human history have asked, and one that so many people are asking today. This work is challenging for all of us, but it is also a necessary part of our continued growth as individuals and as a society.

What concerns you the most for the Symphony?

What concerns me most for the Symphony is what concerns me most for our community and our world. We must all work together, and honor each other’s shared humanity, if we are going to emerge from this crisis. As a society, we are facing something unlike anything we have ever experienced. As we consider how we can best protect and take care of ourselves and our families, along with the institutions that matter most to us, we also have to remember that everyone in our world is affected by this pandemic. That means we have a shared responsibility to be concerned about each other as well.

Now, back to both of you…

What are you reading/listening to/watching?

Giancarlo: I’ve been watching old episodes of “Columbo” (remember that detective series from the 70’s?). And I just finished watching Season 3 of “Ozark” on Netflix. And I recently started reading Freakonomics.

Shirley: I am watching “Por Ella Soy Eva” which is a Mexican telenovela. I am reading a novel by Isabel Allende called Largo Pétalo de Mar (Long Sea Petal).

 

How is your family doing?

Giancarlo: We are all doing well and we are grateful that we have stayed healthy in the middle of this pandemic. Our families in Costa Rica are also staying safe.

Shirley: We are very happy to be together.

Have you learned anything about yourself in the Time of Corona?

Giancarlo: For many years now, I have spent a big part of my life on the road. Lots of time in different cities around the world living out of a suitcase. I really have enjoyed this extra time I’ve spent at home. I think I’m really going to miss my house much more once I’m able to resume my concert activity.

Shirley: I really love to spend time at home.

What has surprised you in the Time of Corona?

Giancarlo: After many years of being a traveling musician and getting used to being apart, we were very happy to confirm that we truly enjoy our time together. We are definitely catching up on lost time that we spent away from each other.

How will this experience change us as a society – or you personally?

Giancarlo: Like all big crisis in history, I know that we will adapt and become stronger on the other end.

And here are a few speed dating questions just for fun…

Favorite snack in the time of corona?
Giancarlo:
Sweet plantain chips
Shirley: Puffed cheetos

Favorite beverage?
Giancarlo: Chocolate milk
Shirley: Perrier with lime

Guilty pleasure…
Giancarlo: Playing Doom on my daughter’s Nintendo Switch
Shirley: Chocolate

Favorite project around the house/in the yard?
Giancarlo: Organizing my home office. I found lots of books and musical scores I had totally forgotten about. Plus lots of memorabilia from early in my career.
Shirley: Working in my home office

Cooking or ordering in?
Giancarlo: Ordering in
Shirley: Ordering in

First restaurant you’ll go back to?
Giancarlo: Las Palmas
Shirley: Chauhan Ale & Masala House

First place you’ll go when we can fly again…
Giancarlo: Back to my orchestra in Wroclaw, Poland
Shirley: Costa Rica to visit my parents

Best advice for staying sane in the Time of Corona…
Giancarlo: Keep busy!!!! Don’t fall into a routine…
Shirley: Eat, pray, love!

Thank you so much for that great advice, its simplicity and truth… xoxo

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Giancarlo and Shirley with Laurie Seabury and Katie Crumbo

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