Miguel Harth‐Bedoya arrived in Fort Worth 20 years ago, taking over as music director role from John Giordano, who had been in that role for 28 years. He’s stepping down Aug. 1, becoming conductor laureate, which he says is more of an honorary title.
“In other words, I don’t have any administrative responsibilities or institutional responsibilities. I’ll just be a frequent guest. Let’s put it that way,” he said in a recent interview.
He’s been appointed director of orchestral studies at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, starting in the fall, commuting to Omaha to start his next stage in professional life teaching, training a young generation of, not only conductors, but also orchestral musicians.
Note the word “commuting.”
That’s because Fort Worth is home to him and his wife Dr. Maritza Cáceres, a choral conductor, and their three children, Elena, 18, Emilio, 15, and Elisa, 13. They’ve been married 20 years.
Elena just graduated from R.L. Paschal High School and will attend Baylor University to study music education and the other two will finish up in the next three and four years.
He’s a rock star – well, rock conductor, anyway – in Fort Worth and widely beloved in the city.
And he and his family reciprocate, and they are grateful to the city for the opportunity he was given two decades ago, Harth‐Bedoya said.
“So instead of being thanked, I really want to make sure that people know how grateful we are,” he said.
Harth‐Bedoya said the city has made the family better people and citizens of a community, and that in turn made him a better musician when all those things are added up.
He’s from Lima, Peru, and has lived in number of places.
Harth‐Bedoya has just finished his commuting role of chief conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
But Fort Worth is unique, he said, proving that that it’s the people that make the cities, not the buildings.
One of those people is Mercedes T. Bass, chairman of the board for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
“He was so very young when he was hired as the music director of the FWSO. He and the orchestra have now spent 20 years together and matured together in their music making. He is truly an intellectual and a genius,” she said.
He’s 52 now.
“We have been extremely lucky to have had him at the helm of the FWSO. He took us to the next level and we will always be grateful to him and his music making. He will remain as part of the FWSO family, and we wish him good luck and every success with the next chapter of his life,” she said.
Harth-Bedoya created The Conducting Institute in Fort Worth and it will remain here, he said.
“It allows me to draw people from across the world to come and study with me here in Fort Worth as well during the summers. So, I’ll be teaching in Omaha during the fall and winter, and then spring, I suppose. But then the summers, I will have the conducting institute here in Fort Worth. We partnered with the Texas Wesleyan University this past summer. So, I’ll have a musical foot here,” he said.
The search for his replacement is officially on hold, says Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Keith Cerny, Ph.D. It was very much in midstream when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the orchestra hasn’t been able to perform in Bass Hall since March.
Cerny’s been head of the symphony for almost 18 months, and the search was already to some extent up and running when he started. There’s been a lot of research, but the inability to perform in Bass Hall is an issue.
“Our primary way to move the search forward is by bringing in guest conductors. And so we had various guest conductors engaged for the 2019 to 2020 season and then the ’20 to ’21 season. Although we don’t announce who’s officially a candidate, anyone who’s coming to be a guest conductor with us, we’re looking very closely at how it goes in the rehearsals and the performances and all the different input we get.” Cerny said.
The job has drawn a great deal of interest from folks the symphony reached out to and others from artists managers, and even in some cases, artists who have reached out to the orchestra.
“So, this is seen as a very exciting opportunity, a lot of which having to do with where Miguel has been able to bring the orchestra over his 20 years and all the potential that we see ahead of us. But this is absolutely seen as a plum assignment for the right person,” Cerny said.
Cerny became president and CEO of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in January 2019, filling a role that had been vacant since July 2017.
The goal of the search, he said, is like recruiting process – to get the absolute best person that you can, consistent with the job and what you’re able to pay.
Some conductors are so busy with big international careers that they are not going to have the time to work with the Fort Worth Symphony, but credible candidates number in the 15 to 20 range, Cerny said.
And much of the interest in the job is because of Harth-Bedoya.
Asked to name a single thing that instantly comes to mind when asked about his conduction career in Fort Worth, he said workplace environment.
“I’m so proud to have created a workplace in which musicians want to come to work, because practice is not easy. Practice is hard. But when you like coming to work hard every day, that’s an amazing feeling because you challenge yourself.
“At the same time, the workplace is our audience. So the environment of our workplace is we want to come to work very hard so that when you come to hear us, you’re going to always get the best performance. And we measure that week after week,” Harth-Bedoya said.
“He’s done remarkable work for the symphony and people in the community love him. And he’s in addition to being a superb musician, great colleague and great friend,” Cerny said.
As conductor laureate he’ll be conducting a couple weekend programs each season going forward.
“We’re pleased to keep Miguel as part of the Fort Worth Symphony family, because he’s such a popular and inspiring figure. It works out well for everyone,” Cerny said.
Cerny is also a musician who began playing piano at age 10 and performed extensively in his teens as a pianist and conductor with a number of organizations.
Taking over a job following a long-term and successful incumbent can be daunting.
“If I were going into a music director appointment, I’d actually like to go into an orchestra that was already performing very well and have the chance to take it even further, as opposed to coming in and trying to fix fundamental problems with ensemble or particular sections,” Cerny said.
“That Miguel’s done such a remarkable job in bringing the orchestra to where it is, that is actually makes it even more appealing. The next music director, of course, will work with the players committees, and when we have vacancies and we have a few strategic ones now, they’ll have a chance to start to put their stamp on the orchestra then. They’ll bring in new musical ideas on how to take the standard of performance even higher,” Cerny said.
Harth-Bedoya brought a wide-ranging selection of music to Fort Worth.
“Duke Ellington said there are two kinds of music, the good music and the other one. And he didn’t say what type of music, because music is like food. It’s very personal to the taste and what it does to you. So I just love that music is beyond any specific words, particularly orchestral music that has no words, no lyrics, that to me I feel challenged and curious about whether old or new,” he said.
Harth-Bedoya likes to find the gaps in programming, in selection of repertoire, and target that.
“I do check what’s happening around and I would find things that are not done often or that are worth doing. And that has allowed me to find also space in the profession around the world,” he said.
He’s musician as well.
“Not great, but you know, I can maneuver the piano. That’s what I call it. I maneuver the piano and I used to play some violin. I mean, you have to respect the pianist. They play the piano, they practice piano. What I do really doesn’t compare, and the same with violin,” he said.
Harth-Bedoya guest conducts with orchestras around the world and extensively in the United States.
He is the founder and Artistic Director of Caminos del Inka, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching, performing and preserving the rich musical legacy of South America.
Born and raised in Peru, Harth-Bedoya received his bachelor of music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and his master of music degree from The Juilliard School, both under the guidance of Otto-Werner Mueller. He also studied with Seiji Ozawa and Gustav Meier at Tanglewood.
Harth-Bedoya is an environmental advocate who is committed to a zero waste lifestyle. In 2016 he co-founded Cowboy Compost, a business geared to achieve food waste reduction.