Musician Spotlight

Candace Guirao, Principal Second Violin


Executive Director Parker Monroe caught up with a busy Candace at a Bernal Heights coffee shop near her home in San Francisco.

How did you hear about New Century, and how did you get started with the group?

I joined New Century in its second season. I was subbing at the San Francisco Opera, and two friends, Emil Miland and Marty Simonds, urged me to take an upcoming audition for NCCO. At the time, I had graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I was working at a shop (with some other talented music grads) where I sold lotion and soap. I wanted to play more violin. I took the audition, and I was supposed to check-in with [then Managing Director] Miriam Perkoff that evening. This will tell you how long I’ve been with the group: back then I couldn’t just whip out my cell phone to call Miriam, I had to go find a phone booth! So I called her and when she told me I got the job, I remember screaming and jumping up and down in the phone booth…it was like a scene from a movie. I was so thrilled.

Can you talk just a little about what appeals to you about being in a conductorless orchestra? How is your role as an orchestra musician different? How are rehearsals and concerts different? Do you prepare differently?

Well, what doesn’t appeal to me about being in a conductorless orchestra (laughs)?  I’ve never been a big fan of playing in a large orchestra. Chamber music has always been my favorite, so playing in this small group was ideal. It’s more like being in a string quartet, so it’s really my dream orchestra job.

My role is different than in a bigger orchestra because I need to be more prepared. In New Century, we not only have to practice our own parts, we have to study the score. We need to know what everyone is doing, and to be ready to support them when necessary. We need to know our role at all times: are we supporting or leading? And sometimes we need to take a conductor-like role and show cues. We do that with our bodies, our instruments, and of course we also try to work it out in the rehearsal process. You need to be very familiar with your part – almost memorized – so you can be looking up. At rehearsals and concerts you need to be hyper-aware.

You are Principal 2nd Violin. Can you describe your role?

First of all, I want everyone to know that we’re not just playing “second fiddle!” I love playing second violin. I love being in a supportive role, playing an inner voice, and helping the first violins shine. The occasional solos are fun too!

As principal second, it’s really important for me to create a positive, open relationship within the section, so that everyone feels they have a voice. I take as many suggestions as I can and I try to make it cohesive. I do have strong opinions, and lots of experience, in making a section work, but I have to be open and tuned into everything around me. To lead well I also have to follow.

What do you think makes the NCCO so special?

It’s how much we enjoy each other and making music together. After days and days of rehearsing, we always manage to pull out the energy to give a great performance. People genuinely like each other, and we have great chemistry. That’s not easy to find. People never want to leave this group; I know so many local musicians who would love to play in New Century.

Can you talk a little bit to the audience reading this about what else you do when you’re not performing with New Century?

Ah, I just sit around and twiddle my thumbs (laughs)!  Seriously, I have two children – Molly and Sam – who are eleven and nine, and that’s a big job. And I have a wonderful husband, Josh … and a dog and a cat… So helping take care of everybody keeps me busy!

I teach, usually six to eight students, on average. I love teaching and I do a lot of educational outreach. I’ve done numerous rounds with the San Francisco Symphony’s Adventures in Music Program. I’m also one of “The Rhythm Sisters,” a string quartet (with our own Dawn Harms) that performs family concerts at Stanford, Music in the Vineyards, and many other places. I also perform in another outreach quartet called Chorda in the East Bay. And now I’ll be part of New Century’s expanding education and outreach program, with the wonderful Iris Stone, who has created some fantastic programs.

In addition to the educational work, I sub at the San Francisco Opera and do a lot of recording work.

Can you talk a little about what it was like playing with former Music Directors Stuart Canin and Krista Bennion Feeney?

I have the fondest memories of both! Stuart – what an amazing violinist, musician and friend. He has a great sense of humor and such warmth. And over the years, I’ve just come to adore him, and I’ll take any chance I get to play for him or work with him. I miss him a lot.

I loved working and playing with Krista too. Her playing is so exceptionally musical. There was always so much to do within a phrase! She’s so creative and imaginative and so willing to think outside the box in a way that many musicians are not used to. We played a lot of Baroque music with Krista. She encouraged me to try using gut strings, play without a chin rest and experiment with Baroque bows, which taught me so much.

It was so great to have them both back for the 20th Anniversary last year; Stuart played Mendelssohn and Krista played Haydn.

And can you talk a little about the new directions you think Nadja has taken New Century and how she has changed us?

Nadja is the best. She’s a firecracker and an incredible leader. She has boundless, infectious energy and has breathed new life into the group. She’s brought us to a new level of musical performance and stage presence.

I love that she has taken us on tour all over; that’s been really exciting for us. Her efforts to produce CDs, and our new DVD, On Our Way…that’s huge! And now we’re all over the internet, too. We’re catching up to the 21st century! We have become a much more recognized group, nationally and internationally, under Nadja.

If you had one wish for the NCCO, what would it be?

I wish we had our own special home and hall where we could rehearse and practice, and where our headquarters were. I would love for us to have a place that was known as our hall. That would be a wonderful thing. It would be so great to rehearse and do our education programs, to give lessons, and run the business – all from one building. Can I have two wishes? My second one is for us to be a full-time orchestra!

Would you tell the readers a little bit about growing up in Stockton and how you got started in music? And the teacher who was most influential to you?

As you drove into Stockton there was a sign on a big water tower that said “someplace special” (laughs)! My father was a professor at the college there. My parents both grew up in San Francisco, and my mother took piano lessons at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, way back, when Leon Fleischer taught there – she got to study with him even though she was a beginner! My parents are both huge lovers of the arts. My father, who grew up in the Mission, worked hard culturing himself: he took dance, he sang in the choir, he took music history classes, and ended up with a PhD in English Literature. Thank goodness my parents encouraged us in the arts. We all had ballet, and we all had piano lessons. It was a very busy family.

Mutsuko Tatman was my amazing violin teacher in Stockton. She is the reason I became a violinist. She sent me off to study in San Francisco with Isadore Tinkelman (who was also Krista’s violin teacher!), and parents would drive me every weekend. I went to Oberlin as an undergraduate, and I loved all the playing I did there. After two years, I went back to the San Francisco Conservatory to finish my degree with Isadore Tinkelman. He was such a passionate teacher—I learned so much from him.

Tell us about your violin.

I have two violins, a Lane and a Fredi. The Fredi, an Italian violin from 1901, is the one I’m using the most. I’ve had it for almost two years, so it’s still new to me and I’m learning its intricacies and subtleties. I still play my Anthony Lane violin as well, which is a contemporary instrument. I may take it on tour, since it’s more solid and better handles changes in climate.

Tell us more about your family.

My kids are both bilingual; they go to a Spanish-immersion school. My daughter Molly does dance four days a week and also takes piano. She loves it. Sam is studying guitar and piano, and is really into baseball.

My sisters live in Los Angeles, and Lodi and Marin.

…Don’t you have a sister who’s a professional dancer?

Yes, she danced with Paul Taylor! She now lives in Windsor, Ontario, and she still dances, but mostly she takes care of her three kids!

My husband, Josh, works at a company called Creativity. He makes toys. At the time we met, we were both at Tanglewood, and he was getting his doctorate at Juilliard. We fell in love and moved out here and he started on the free-lance circuit. He got a job right away in the French horn section of the San Jose Symphony, and subbing with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, teaching at UC Santa Cruz, teaching at Hayward State.

Serious mileage!

Serious mileage! He was everywhere. But when we decided to have a family, he just knew he wanted to be home. No more Freeway Philharmonic with all the evening and weekend concerts.

Creativity is in San Carlos, and he’s now a Vice President there. They invent toys and help other companies make better toys. And our kids love it because sometimes there are voice-over opportunities for them!

This interview appeared in the January 2013 National Tour Kick-Off program book.