At age 6, Enluis Montes Olivar attended his first concert in his native Venezuela and was immediately enthralled, particularly by the percussion instruments — tympani, cymbals, all of it.
But when he was asked, “What instrument would you like to play?”, Enluis had a much different answer: “I want to conduct!”
“From first day,” he recalls, “the conductor impressed me the most; he was the one guiding the whole team. I was told, you have to play an instrument first. But I wanted to conduct most of all.”
It’s only been 20 years since then, but Enluis Montes Olivar is already regarded as one of the world’s most talented young conductors, a dynamic podium presence who has earned multiple honors and kudos. Just a year ago, at age 25, he was the double winner in the II International Orchestra Conducting Competition receiving its two main prizes: the First Prize, awarded by a jury of maestros, and the Orchestra Prize, chosen by the on-stage musicians.
A fine accomplishment indeed for one who, at age 11, conducted the orchestra and choir of his native Guanare, and went on to lead many orchestras in South America. He also conducted an orchestra and chorus comprised of 12,000 musicians, which set the Guinness World Record for the largest orchestra in the world.
After serving two years Dudamel Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Enluis currently is assistant conductor of Columbus State University’s Schwob Philharmonic and Opera, and the Columbus Ballet, in Georgia. Later this year, he will serve as an assistant conductor to Gustavo Dudamel in an Opera National de Paris production of John Adams’ Nixon in China.
Before that, however, Enluis returns to Southern California as guest conductor of New West Symphony for its “Rococo Variations” concerts on January 28 and 29. And with selections by Tchaikovsky, Ginastera, Romero and Zhuo Tian, it is a program that offers enormous opportunities for an orchestra, he says enthusiastically.
“In this concert,” he notes, “we have pieces that present everyone in the orchestra with the opportunity to play, to participate with one another in creating beautiful music. Variaciones concertantes (by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera) is a perfect example — horns, celli, basses, tympani, everyone is involved. Variations on a Rococo Theme (by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky) is a masterpiece, in which Tchaikovsky has created something that is completely connected, from beginning to end.
“And then we have an amazing young cellist in Ifetayo Ali-Landing, who is part of a wonderful generation of talented, hard-working young musicians. So it will be amazing to share music, and I am totally excited to be back to Los Angeles, which I love.”
Part of his excitement, he continues, is rooted in the opportunity to “create new colors” in the presentation of the pieces.
“If you play a piece like it’s always been done,” he observes, “that’s not new. So the challenge is to make it fresh. This is our responsibility as musicians. And this is what I love, the whole moment of creation.”
That means not only studying the notes on the page, but understanding the composer’s idea or theory, developing a plan or interpretation, presenting it to the musicians, and being open to their ideas.
“Every orchestra in the world has personalities who have ideas and bring them to the conductor,” says Enluis. “So you have to work together to create that sound for audience. For me, the most beautiful thing is to get that music into my bones, my blood and my mind, and say, ‘Here is this amazing masterpiece I want to share with you,’ and create best idea possible.”
What makes the process even more challenging but more enjoyable, he continues, is knowing and accepting how life and circumstances change every day.
“Today I might say, for example, that I need a new door, or a new jacket — but tomorrow, I might say, ‘No, I don’t.’ If I played Variations a month ago, I would have played it differently than playing it today. And this is a beautiful thing, because it keeps the music fresh.
“Music of the Romantic period is among the best music in the world, but today we need to bring something else to our interpretation than we once did. Not by changing the notes, but by using a different quality of sounds, different energy, different understanding, different forms. When you let your mind breathe, you can do modern interpretations of older music.”
Like his mentor, Dudamel, Enluis is a product of the El Sistema music education program for underserved youth that began in Venezuela and is now in the U.S. and many other countries. And he firmly believes in making music available to all, especially families.
“One of most important concerts that an orchestra can present, whatever the orchestra or the instruments, is the family concert,” he says. “You can bring all kinds of good music into it, it’s an experience families can share, and it gets good music into the minds of young people.”
And good ideas. “Children will ask, ‘What’s that big trumpet?’ And you say, ‘It’s a tuba; do you want to try it?’ It’s part of helping children learn, and when you help them learn, they become dreamers.”
Perhaps some of them will even dream of being a conductor. Clearly, Enluis Montes Olivar is living proof that dreams — combined with talent, dedication and hard work — can come true.