Claudio Ordaz couldn’t have chosen a more different place than the Chihuahuan Desert to take his musical talents. Seven years ago, he moved to Finland. He returned to El Paso for the first time in about 10 years in September 2016.
"It's hot," Ordaz said with a laugh when describing what it was like to be back in the American Southwest. “But I really miss the weather here, the beautiful sunsets and the mountains. And the warmth of the people is something I always bring with me in my heart.” Ordaz is one of several UTEP alumni and faculty who share their musical talents around the country and the world. He visited the El Paso area this past fall to conduct a symphony concert in Chihuahua to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his father’s death. His father, Moises, founded and conducted Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua’s symphony orchestra.
Ordaz, who graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance in 2001 from UTEP, founded the Savonlinna Camerata orchestra in Finland in 2013 as the first Mexican conductor to start an orchestra in Europe. It started with 12 musicians and has since grown to include 34 members. The orchestra has performed throughout Finland.
Ordaz’s musical journey started at about the age of six in Chihuahua City, Mexico, when he began learning how to play the violin.
“I believe that curiosity is very important and I also believe music chooses people,” Ordaz said. “Italians say that we should listen to our hearts. But mine always comes in sound, in terms of music, and for me it has been a certain guide that moves me around the world.”
At the age of 14, he started taking a more-than-four-hour bus ride from Chihuahua City to El Paso to take private lessons with longtime El Paso Symphony Orchestra conductor and UTEP Professor Abraham Chavez.
Ordaz continued his musical education at UTEP, studying with Chavez and Laurence A. Gibson.
“I had the opportunity and privilege to be the concertmaster of the University symphony orchestra for four years,” Ordaz said. “That gave me a good opportunity to be in a position where you have responsibility and you have to lead the orchestra. That was very important to me and that gave me a good base, and inspiration to move forward to more challenging opportunities.”
Gibson, a former UTEP music professor, calls Ordaz one of his favorite students. Ordaz looks up to Gibson as a mentor.
“The greatest gift Claudio gave me was when he was my concertmaster in the University orchestra and I would look down from the podium and he always had a wonderful twinkle in his eye,” Gibson said. “He’s just a wonderful guy. He combines the charisma with the craft, and that’s a powerful combination.”
Having alumni like Ordaz and current faculty performing and conducting across the U.S. and overseas is a unique way of letting people know about UTEP.
“It’s very important for the University in terms of spreading our reputation,” Gibson said. “Let’s face it. El Paso is a bit isolated and even with media being what it is, knowing somebody personally, having been personally in their presence, is a powerful recommendation.”
Plans are underway for Ordaz and his orchestra to celebrate Finland’s 100 years of independence in 2017, which will include a series of concerts.
Ordaz also has taken another big step in his musical growth – writing his first orchestral piece. Studying music in
Estonia inspired him to take the leap, and he began writing the piece at the end of 2015.
“It’s not finished yet, but I’ll be sharing my first piece with everybody soon,” Ordaz said.
For UTEP students and others at the beginning of their musical journey, Ordaz has this message.
“I believe it is very important for young musicians to find out if music is an essential need for them,” Ordaz said. “Once they find out that is what they want to do – that they have something important to say, that they can’t live without the music – then they must concentrate as much as they can to achieve their goals and make a career out of it.”
Music Faculty Make Their Mark Globally
Like Ordaz, some UTEP music faculty share their talents across the world in addition to their teaching duties, enhancing the learning experience for their students.
Zuill Bailey, Cello, has performed as a concerto soloist with symphony orchestras around the United States in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Louisville, Milwaukee and Nashville, to name a few. His international appearances include celebrated performances with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in its 50th anniversary tour of Russia, as well as concerts in Australia, France, Hong Kong, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Spain, South America and the United Kingdom. Bailey won two Grammy Awards in February 2017 for his performance on composer Michael Daugherty’s album “Tales of Hemingway.”
Kenneth Capshaw, Conducting and Ensembles, has toured in Italy and England as a trumpet soloist with the Choir of the Southwest, and in Turkey and Germany as a member of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. Capshaw has been a guest soloist, clinician, and adjudicator around the United States.
Blythe Cates, Voice, has performed as a soloist with the Inland Master Chorale, the Austrian American Academy, Central Presbyterian Church of Austin, Concordia University Choir, and the Texas Early Music Ensemble.
Dominic Dousa, Music Theory/Aural Skills/ Composition, has compositions that have been performed at recitals, festivals and conferences in the U.S., Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Poland and Scotland.
Brian Downen, Voice, performed in Bhutan for the king and queen’s wedding anniversary in 2013 as part of UTEP’s Opera Bhutan. In spring 2016, Downen played the supporting role of Lord Cecil in the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Roberto Devereux.” Downen will have a featured part in Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at the Met in March 2017.
Cherry Duke, Applied Voice/ Opera UTEP, performed as a guest artist with the Bay View Music Festival and Missouri Symphony Society in 2013-14. Some of Duke’s credits include performing Siebel in “Faust” with Winter Opera Saint Louis, the Third Lady in “The Magic Flute” with Opera Tampa, and Isabella in “L’italiana in Algeri” with Opera Company of Middlebury and singing Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” under the direction of Gerard Schwarz with Symphoria in Syracuse, New York.
Brad Genevro, Director of Bands, had a busy 2016 including guest conducting in Delaware, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. He also has done some work in China and Australia during his career. In December 2016, he spent a week as a guest clinician, adjudicator and conductor for the largest band festival in Hong Kong.
Lowell Graham, Director of Orchestral Activities, has conducted ensembles including the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony, the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, the American Promenade Orchestra, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Banda Sinfonica do Estado de Sao Paulo, Orquestra de Sopros Brasileira, and the Banda Sinfónica de la Provincia de Córdoba – Argentina.
Ron Hufstader, Emeritus, has coordinated halftime shows for some of the major bowl games including the Sun, Alamo, Liberty, Gator and Sugar bowls. He played principal trombone in the El Paso Symphony Orchestra until 2005 and has played with orchestras such as the Greensboro Symphony, the Winston-Salem Symphony and the Classical Music Seminar Orchestra in Austria. Hufstader has served as a guest conductor and adjudicator in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Juanita Ulloa, Voice, has performed vocal works from Mexico of both a ranchera mariachi as well as classical nature on international stages in Spain, Mexico, Peru and the U.S. 11 Dena Kay Jones, Keyboard Division Coordinator/Piano, has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the U.S., Spain, Italy, Mexico and Canada. She was awarded a grant from the Spanish Embassy in conjunction with U.S. universities for a Spanish music CD recording project.
Charles Francis Leinberger, Music Theory and Composition/ Film Musicology, has lectured on the music of Ennio Morricone at the Manhattan School of Music, Northwestern University, the University of Leeds (England), and the Hawaii University International Conference on the Arts and Humanities.
Cara Luffey, Bassoon, has a career as an orchestral musician that has taken her from Graz, Austria with the AIMS Festival Orchestra, to a tour of China with the Mantovani Orchestra.
Oscar Macchioni, Keyboard, has performed extensively in his native Argentina, England, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Turkey, and the U.S.
Stephen Nordstrom, Violin, has performed with the Lexington (Kentucky) Philharmonic, the Richmond (Indiana) Symphony Orchestra, and the Abilene (Texas) Philharmonic and served as concertmaster for festivals in Italy and the United States. Nordstrom has performed recitals and with his quartet in Austria, Canada, China, Italy and throughout the United States.
Chris Reyman, Commercial Piano, has given workshops across the U.S. and at the 8th World Congress of the International Drama, Theatre and Education Association in Paris, France and in the communities of Juárez, Mexico and Bogotá, Colombia. Reyman also is a versatile pianist and has performed throughout the U.S. and at festivals in Montreux, Switzerland; the Netherlands; Toronto, Canada; Bali, Indonesia; and Paris.
Hiram Rodriguez, Guitar, has performed at solo and ensemble recitals at venues including the Fine Arts Museum in Juárez, Mexico; the University Cultural Center at Juárez University (UACJ); City Theater in Delicias, Mexico; City Festival in Guerrero, Mexico; and Juárez’s City Cultural Center.
David Ross, Clarinet/Music History and Literature, has worked nationally and internationally as a performer, clinician and lecturer. Recent highlights include giving the opening lecture at
the Edinburgh (Scotland) Woodwind Symposium, lecturing at the Berlin (Germany) exhibition “Faszination Klarinette,” and speaking at the famous Schola Cantorum in Basel (Switzerland) on 18th century music editing.
Andrea Shaheen, Ethnomusicology/Oboe, has toured with the Aegean Verdi Festival Orchestra in Greece and was principal oboe with the Syrian Philharmonic Orchestra of the High Institute of Music in Syria for the 2009-10 season. Shaheen also maintains a national and international symphonic performance schedule. In March 2012, she performed Stravinsky's “Pulcinella” suite under the baton of Matthew Coorey as principal oboist of the Palestinian National Orchestra.
Demetrius Williams, Drum Set Studies, has a busy schedule that includes traveling to thesouthwest United States and Mexico to perform and teach jazz, percussion and drum set as a clinician.
Steve Wilson, Department of Music Chair/Trombone, has been active nationally andinternationally both as a soloist and as a member of the Continental Trombone Quartet, having given recitals and master classes in Los Angeles, Chicago, Brazil and China.