Our Music Director
“A pioneer for classical music”
Darwin Aquino, the Dominican conductor, composer, and violinist, has served as Music Director and Conductor of the Gateway Festival Orchestra since 2019. In that time he has won the acclaim of our St. Louis audiences for the new sounds and the new energy he has brought to our stage.
Darwin appears internationally and is regarded as among the most accomplished Latinx artists of his generation, in both symphonic and operatic fields. Having recently conducted Vincenzo Bellini’s monumental opera Norma, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch remarked: “Darwin had the orchestra sounding great from the first measures of the overture and maintained a good balance between stage and pit. He has a fine feel for the nuances of the bel canto style, and knows to breathe with the singers”.
A sought-after guest conductor known for his “moving, absorbing and robust performances”, Darwin enjoys regular engagements around the world, including the Philharmonishes Staatsorchester Mainz in Germany, Saarländisches Staatsorchester in Germany, National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica, ADCA Symphony Orchestra in New York, Filarmónica Boca del Rio in Mexico, Palm Beach Symphony Orchestra, Alfredo Saint Malo Festival Orchestra in Panama, FIU Symphony Orchestra in Miami, and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA), among others. Aquino was also selected as Music Director by the world acclaimed Italian tenors Il Volo, for concert tours in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
An opera conductor regarded for his “passionate and precise baton”, Darwin has received outstanding reviews and public praise for his interpretations of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Bizet’s Carmen, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, Donizetti’s Elisir D’Amore and Bizet’s Pearl Fishers, Menotti’s The Medium, among many others. He served as Music Director for Winter Opera St. Louis for the 2017-2019 seasons. Early in his career was appointed Cover Conductor at the Florida Grand Opera (Don Pasquale, Carmen, Norma, Barber of Seville), Opera Naples (La Boheme), the Palm Beach Symphony Orchestra and the Florida International University Symphony Orchestra. Recently, the Florida Grand Opera commissioned Darwin to translate into Spanish the Italian comic opera Il Matrimonio Segreto by Domenico Cimarosa, for their upcoming 2021 premier.
As a passionate advocate of social change through classical music, Darwin worked closely for many years with Gustavo Dudamel in Venezuela and previously held posts as Artistic Director of El Sistema, Director of the National Conservatory of Music and Music Director of the National Youth Symphony Orchestra, in his homeland the Dominican Republic. Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of the world-known Venezuelan Sistema, referred to Darwin as “a great conductor, excellent composer and eminent violinist. A pioneer for classical music”. Darwin was awarded for his service to the youth with the Global Humanitarian Entrepreneur Prize from the Hildegard Behrens Foundation, the Global Leaders Program Prize from the YOA and the Arts Advocacy Award from the Florida Higher Education Arts Network.
Currently, Darwin serves as Music Director for the Música Sacra concert series in Santo Domingo, Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis, Conductor-in-Residence for the Washington University Symphony Orchestra, and Cover Conductor for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and St. Louis Youth Symphony Orchestra. He has been appointed as the new Music Director of the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra.
Darwin’s principal teachers were Grzegorz Nowak and Ramon Tebar, with additional studies and masterclasses from Benjamin Zander, Colin Metters, Jose Serebrier, Carlos Miguel Prieto and James Judd. He holds a Master’s in Music in Orchestral Conducting from the Florida International University, where he received the Graduate Performer Award for his conducting of E. Chabrier opera L’Etoile.
“My music emerges from the heart of Caribbean rhythms and chants. We are a creative mixture of cultures – an explosion of sounds, colors, and imagination. It has always been my universe, my poetic vision of the world. “
Darwin’s most celebrated orchestral composition, Espacio Ritual, had its European premiere by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France during the Festival Presences, resulting in glowing praise from La Musique au Jour le Jour : “Aquino has very well listened to the French composers, Boulez or Varese, developing in this piece a deeply personal language and an inventive mastery for writing to the orchestra”.
Other orchestral works have been performed by international ensembles such as Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Mainz, Saarländisches Staatsorchester in Germany, The Orchestra of the Americas, Santo Domingo Music Festival Orchestra, Filarmónica Boca del Rio in Mexico, Washington University Symphony Orchestra, Música Sacra Philharmonic, Dominican National Symphony Orchestra, FIU Symphony Orchestra in Miami and the National Symphony Orchestra of El Salvador.
Between 2018 and 2020, Aquino’s new music has had exceptional recognition alongside five commissions and world premieres by the Florida International University (Concerto for violin, strings & percussion), Chamber Project St. Louis (Redescubrimiento for 6 instruments), Women Hope Chorale (La Vida es Bella for female chorus, piano, violoncello and percussion), University of Michigan’s percussion studio (Aee Mama Si Ee for solo percussion) and the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Latin American Collegium of Composers invited Aquino as their youngest member for his outstanding achievements in composition. He was invited to Cuba as one of the judges and guest composer for the top Composition Prize Casa de las Americas. A frequently performed composer worldwide, his chamber music has been selected to be performed at the North South Consonance in New York, New Music ISCM in Miami, Latin American Music Festival in Venezuela, SMASH Salamanca in Spain, Mannes College of Music, EAFIT University in Colombia, Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, International Forum of New Music in Mexico, Universidad de Costa Rica, Alfredo de Saint Malo Festival in Panama, among others.
Aquino studied composition at the Conservatoire National du Strasbourg in France with Italian maestro Ivan Fedele and served as composer in residence for the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic. During his career he has received the Musici Mojanesi Composition Prize in Italy, three National Composition Prizes and two Academic Composition Prizes in his homeland. His music has been published by Ars Publica Edizioni in Italy, Cayambis Music Press in the USA and Gothic Full Score in Santo Domingo. For many years he served as Professor of Composition and Director of the New Music Ensemble at the University of Missouri St. Louis.