Our Music Director – The Gateway Festival Orchestra of St. Louis

Our Music Director

Darwin Aquino

“A pioneer for classical music”

Dominican conductor and composer Darwin Aquino is rapidly gaining international attention and is regarded as among the most accomplished Latinx artists of his generation. In 2019, he was appointed as Music Director for the Gateway Festival Orchestra.

A sought-after conductor known for his “moving, absorbing and robust performances,” Darwin has enjoyed regular engagements around the world, including the Philharmonishes Staatsorchester Mainz, 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, the Orchestra of the Americas (OA), among others. Upcoming concerts as guest conductor in the 2021-22 season include the Ashland Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, the Caribbean Lyric Festival and the Missouri River Festival of the Arts. 

Lately, the Florida Grand Opera commissioned Darwin to translate into Spanish the Italian comic opera Il Matrimonio Segreto by Domenico Cimarosa, for their upcoming April 2022 premier.  Having recently conducted Vincenzo Bellini’s monumental opera Norma with Winter Opera STL, 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.”

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, Bizet’s Pearl Fishers, Menotti’s The Medium, Chabrier’s L’Etoile, among many others. He served as Music Director for Winter Opera St. Louis for the 2016-2019 seasons. Early in his career was appointed Cover Conductor at the Florida Grand Opera (Don Pasquale, Carmen, Norma, Barber of Seville) and Opera Naples (La Boheme). Between 2017-2019 he was selected as Coach for Opera Masterclasses with the Chicago Summer Opera program. 

As a composer, 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.

The Latin American Collegium of Composers invited Aquino as their youngest member for his outstanding achievements in composition. In the last couple of years, his new music has had exceptional recognition alongside many commissions and world premieres by: the Florida International University (Concerto for violin, strings & percussion), Ashland Symphony Orchestra (Lunga Pandemia), Chamber Project St. Louis (Redescubrimiento for 6 instruments), University of Michigan’s percussion studio (Aee Mama Si Ee), Women’s Hope Chorale (La Vida es Bella for female chorus, piano, violoncello and percussion), FZN Orchestra (Caribe 102 for strings & percussion) and the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra (Riccardo Variations). The Gateway Festival Orchestra will play Caribe 102 at our July 3rd concert.

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.”

Currently, he also serves as the new Music Director of the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra, Director of Orchestral Studies at University of Missouri St. Louis and Conductor-in-Residence for Washington University. In his country, he has been the Music Director for the Música Sacra concert series since 2011. Recently, he was selected by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra as Cover Conductor for maestro Leonard Slatkin and Gemma New.

Darwin’s principal conducting 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. Aquino holds a Master’s in Music in Orchestral Conducting from Florida International University.

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