Hekmatpanah leads GU Orchestra at “Music on the Mountain”

(ROBERT NEIN/Chewelah Arts Guild)

Kevin Hekmatpanah has been the Music Director at Gonzaga University since 1994. (Courtesy photo)

MOUNTAIN OF TALENT: Orchestra will entertain Chewelah on May 18…

Sitting in a third grade music class in his home town of Chicago, Kevin Hekmatpanah heard one student after another say “violin” in answer to the teacher’s question: “what instrument would you like to play?”

“I had no idea what a cello was, but I wanted to be different,” said the conductor of Gonzaga Symphony, which will make its Music on the Mountain debut at Chewelah Peak on Saturday at 2 p.m.
That decision to begin cello lessons has shaped his entire life. It took him through music degrees at USC and Indiana University, hundreds of cello appearances worldwide and to the position—at age 30—of Music Director of the Gonzaga Orchestra in 1994.

Looking back, he is grateful for the people, places and opportunities that fueled his passion for music, the cello and conducting. They include his first teacher, a supportive grandmother who took him to concerts, and even his father, who questioned whether music could be a real profession.

The skepticism of his father, a doctor who emigrated from Iran in the early ‘50s, was an obstacle that only increased Hekmatpanah’s determination to succeed. “We locked horns about this all through my studies. Naturally, I wanted to prove him wrong.

“Being at a small-city college like Indiana also offered fewer distractions than in L.A. or New York. It’s a great music school, so it was a mecca that attracted great teachers, famous soloists with the orchestra and future stars like Joshua Bell, who I saw in a violin master class,” Hekmatpanah said.

Invited to conduct the orchestra in his first teaching job at Middle Tennessee State University, he learned to his surprise that conducting was a natural fit. “I gradually realized it was a passion of mine. It gives you the same adrenaline rush you have as a soloist. That was 30 years ago, and I’ve never looked back,” the GU conductor said.

The 50-piece orchestra he will bring to Chewelah Peak is about one-third GU students. The rest are a broad mixture of alumni, music educators, former Spokane Symphony members and dedicated community musicians.

“Our musicians are all highly committed,” the Gonzaga conductor said. “I’m proud of our reputation for playing with abandon and passion. It’s apparent from the first measure to the last that this orchestra loves playing and communicating with the audience.”

Saturday’s program will feature music by great composers like Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky that “will be instantly gratifying to the audience,” Hekmatpanah said. “Some of the pieces are familiar from their use in movies, TV and even commercials.”

Tickets for Music on the Mountain, are still available at Akers United Drug, Valley Drug and House of Music until closing Friday, and then at the door Saturday. The Learning Center doors open at 1 p.m.

The concert is presented by Chewelah Arts Guild and the Chewelah Peak Learning Center. Financial supporters include the Vinson Fund of Colville, which funded rental of a stage for the orchestra.