Costa Rican music scholar brings life to URI symphony

Luis Viquez, an assistant professor and director of orchestral studies, was hired in September and is revitalizing the program using his own experiences.

Viquez, originally from Costa Rica, teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting classes as well as directs the University of Rhode Island Symphony Orchestra.

Viquez played for the community band in Costa Rica while coming from a family immersed in farming. His skills were recognized and he was offered scholarships to the University of Costa Rica.

“I had a full ride to attend the University of Costa Rica, which is one of the greatest benefits of our education system in Costa Rica,” Viquez said.

After attending UCR, Viquez performed professionally in Costa Rica as a clarinet player. He pursued a master’s degree, and subsequently a doctorate at the University of Missouri. After seven years as an endowed professor at the University of South Dakota, Viquez began teaching at the University of Rhode Island this semester.

After arriving at URI, according to Viquez, he was impressed with the social climate and accessibility for students to join the music program.

“Rhode Island is a very progressive state, a very enlightened state, in which it embraces diversity,” Viquez said.

Viquez said the URI Symphony Orchestra is accessible to all students who audition, even those who are not majoring in music.

Students can enroll in the orchestra for one credit, according to Viquez. Students can also enroll for zero credits, making participation free while boosting their GPA.

“As long as a student comes with a positive attitude, and is planning to do their best, they get a straight A,” Viquez said.

There are over 50 members in the symphony orchestra on campus. According to Viquez, most members are students, but professors and community members are a part of the orchestra as well.

Auditions for the orchestra occur at the beginning of each semester. Viquez said members are allowed to join mid-semester upon request.

“You learn how to love music by participating in an orchestra during college,” Viquez said.

Rehearsals are on Monday and Wednesdays for 7-9 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center. Viquez says the rehearsal slot is later to avoid conflicts with students’ class schedules.

The URI Symphony Orchestra performs 4-5 times a year, according to Viquez. Viquez conducted his first show in September with a great turnout, according to him.

“I find that we are in a very vibrant community for orchestral playing,” Viquez said.

Viquez encourages student participation in order to become better, according to graduate student and assistant conductor for the symphony, Keith Brown.

Brown, who is also new to URI education programs, has gotten the opportunity from Viquez to conduct pieces on his own.

“He’s doing an outstanding job,” Viquez said.

Viquez has also intentionally chosen pieces from underrepresented composers to be performed in concerts. For example, the orchestra has played pieces from women and Latinx composers, according to Viquez.

“I think this blend of old and new is really cool,” Brown said.

Their upcoming Christmas concert will feature compositions from the 2004 film Polar Express.

Brown said that Viquez has also initiated the first recording project for the symphony. They recorded “Dreams” by Juan Guerra, and “Empty Branches, Crystalline Grace” by Deanna Wehrspann so far this semester. The recorded pieces will eventually be put on music platforms to advertise the URI symphony, according to Brown.

Viquez will continue to initiate recording pieces for the orchestra, according to Brown, as well as continue to encourage students to immerse themselves in orchestral music.