Former TPS director leads Tchaikovsky Festival

Kenneth LaFave -- The Arizona Republic -- Nov. 25, 2004 

The Phoenix Symphony gives thanks this weekend for a dour Russian who penned many of the classical tunes America finds most appealing. Pytor Illyich Tchaikovsky is the subject of a three-day TPS "festival" at the new Piper Performing Arts Center at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix.

"Festival" is in quotes because what we really have here is a single program of Tchaikovsky works, played three times. But, nominally at least, this does mark the return of the symphony's previously annual Tchaikovsky Festival.

It also marks the return of the conductor who started it.
"I began the Tchaikovsky Festival in the last two years of my tenure as the Phoenix Symphony's music director," says Theo Alcantara. He held that post from 1978 to 1988.

"The idea was to play Tchaikovsky's festive music every Thanksgiving. It was very successful, then faded away. We are rebooting it."

Alcantara will conduct the symphony in the all-Tchaikovsky program, with soloist Corey Cerovsek, violin. Cerovsek will perform Tchaikovsky's sole Violin Concerto, one of the most famous in the repertoire. The symphony will be Tchaikovsky's Fifth, and the opener is Marche Slav.

It's the first time Alcantara has led his former band in seven seasons. It's not like he hasn't been busy. Two years ago, he completed 10 years as music director of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra in his native Spain and 15 years as principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Opera.

Then he took two years off.

"In practical terms, that meant I was no longer willing to do 40 to 50 concerts a year. I was not interested in a position, anywhere."

Alcantara had lived in the Valley since 1978, jetting to the Europe or the Eastern United States as his career demanded. So he and his wife, Susan, bought a new home in Paradise Valley with an eye to retirement.

Then, earlier this year, Alcantara emerged from his sabbatical unexpectedly, when a dream job came available.

"I am now the artistic adviser and chief conductor for the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the Teatro Colon Orchestra in Argentina."

Amazingly, that makes two Valley residents with local track records who've taken appointments at the fabled Teatro Colon. The other was Michael Uthoff, former artistic director of Ballet Arizona, recently named head of the venue's resident ballet company. Says Alcantara:

"I've been bumping into Michael more in Buenos Aires than I ever did in Phoenix."

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