Meet New Pacific Symphony Pops Conductor Enrico Lopez-Yañez

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Enrico Lopez-Yañez, new Principal Pops conductor for Pacific Symphony. photo by Dokk Savage Photography

Longtime attendees of Pacific Symphony Pops concerts know the familiar face and insightful commentary of Pops conductor Richard Kaufman, who guided audiences through more than 30 symphonic pops seasons featuring a dazzling array of musical guests, including Olivia Newton John, Frankie Valli and The Righteous Brothers.

This season, Kaufman has turned his baton over to Enrico Lopez-Yañez, a bright new light in the Pops music world who made his official Pacific Symphony Pops debut conducting the “Music of Star Wars” on Nov. 3 (although he also conducted the symphony’s final 2022-2023 Pops concert last June).

At only 34, Lopez-Yañez also holds the same Pops Conductor title with the Nashville Symphony and Dallas Symphony and is becoming nationally known for his unique style of audience engagement and his ability to fuse orchestral music and entertainment.

Lopez-Yañez was born in San Diego and was a UCLA music student, so coming to Pacific Symphony marks a homecoming of sorts.

His father is an opera singer and his mother is a pianist, so he grew up in opera houses and concert halls around the world. An active composer/arranger, Lopez-Yañez has conducted for a wide-range of performers, including Patti LaBelle, Itzhak Perlman, Nas, Kelsea Ballerini, Portugal the Man and many others.

Lopez-Yañez is an advocate for Latin music, and has arranged and produced shows for Latin Fire, Mariachi Los Camperos, The Three Mexican Tenors, and collaborated with artists including Aida Cuevas and Lila Downs.

His next Pops concert with the Pacific Symphony is this weekend, February 16 and 17, when he welcomes Latin jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

Upcoming Pops concerts conducted by Lopez-Yañez feature Lyle Lovett (March 8 and 9) and viral sensations Ben Rector and Cody Fry (May 10 and 11).

On Friday, Nov. 3, members of the media were invited to meet Enrico Lopez-Yañez prior to a rehearsal for his “Music of Star Wars” pops concert that evening. Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte moderated a Q&A session with Lopez-Yañez.

Pacific Symphony Pops conductor Enrico Lopez-Yañez and Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte during a press conference prior to a “Music of Star Wars” concert. Photo by Chris Trela

Forsyte: For 33 years the Pacific Symphony has a had a principal Pops conductor, Richard Kaufman, who came from Hollywood. At some point in any great artist’s tenure he has transitioned into what we call Principal Pops Conductor Emeritus. We have big shoes to fill to find a conductor who can work in so many diffirent forms of music and program works that are entertaining yet at the same time maybe a little new and interesting to a multi-generational audience. That’s the challenge of being a Pops conductor. So I am delighted to introduce one of the most exciting young artists, someone who is trained in the classical tradition but has an incredibly wide background. We are excited that he has accepted the invitation to become the Pacific Symphony’s new principal Pops conductor. Welcome Enrico Lopez-Yañez. This is an interesting career you have selected for yourself. Tell us a little about your musical DNA.

Lopez-Yañez: I was born into a very musical household. My father is an opera singer and my mother is a pianist. My father was born and raised in Mexico. Late in his musical life he was told he had a great voice, and was finally inspired to study voice in the United states. He came to Southern California and studied at Cal state Northridge where he met my mother, who is now his accompanist for all of his recitals. They got married, moved to Europe and began his musical career there. I was born into that world. We would travel to Europe or South America, so the early years of my life were sitting backstage and watching these incredible productions, and the music coming from the orchestra pit. That was inspiring to me. My mom insisted I study piano, so that was my musical upbringing for five years until I switched to trumpet. I attended UCLA where I switched over to conducting. When I was young I loved every style of music and genre. I played keyboards in an oldies group, sang in a barbershop quartet, played in a mariachi band, you name it I tried it. Now I get to mesh all those styles and genres into one.

Forsyte: How has this concept of being a symphony pops conductor enter your life. Did you stumble into it? What was your experience?

Darth Vader looks over the shoulder of new Pacific Symphony Pops conductor Enrico Lopez-Yañez during a press conference prior to a “Music of Star Wars” concert. Photo by Chris Trela

Lopez-Yañez: I knew nothing about pops conducting when I started, I thought I was going to be an opera conductor. But once I graduated I started attending the Omaha Symphony pops concerts and seeing how flexible an orchestra can be. They worked with rock bands and then an oldies group and then soul music or a pops artist. Those are all the genres of music I loved, but fused with an orchestra, which makes it sound completely different. It transforms it and elevates it in a unique way and reaches the audience in a new way too. For me that was the first spark into it. I was at the Nashville Symphony as an assistant conductor and they offered me the principal pops job. As I started down that path, I realized it was the perfect fusion of my interests and love from my childhood.

Forsyte: When you have a multigenerational audience, how do you find balance in a program with different tastes, or is it surprising to you that they come together?

Lopez-Yañez: It’s really interesting, I think one of the great things about the orchestra is that it can create across different genres one unified meshing of sound and bring audiences of all different ages together.

Forsyte: You are starting your tenure with Pacific Symphony with the Music of Star Wars. Why open your tenure with this music?

Lopez-Yañez: You will hear the orchestra completely unamplified in a hall meant to amplify their glorious sound. They will play music by one of our greatest American living composers, John Williams. It’s transgenerational music, people grew up watching the films. This is music that is so entertaining and shows the level of what the orchestra can do. This music is challenging for orchestras to perform. They are working their behinds off to make this performance happen.

After opening the questions to the media, Lopez-Yañez was asked about the process of curating and planning a Pops season.

Lopez-Yañez: It’s takes the entire Pacific Symphony team hours of planning and emailing and calling back and forth. We have to see if the concerts are sellable. The big thing to me is hearing from audiences, especially subscribers and donors, and the community at large. An orchestra should be a reflection of its community, and always try to expand what we do artistically and program things that are family-friendly and sometimes things that are pushing the bounds. It’s all done with the attention of taking you across a journey for the season.

For more information on the Pacific Symphony including upcoming Pops concerts and tickets, visit PacificSymphony.org.

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