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UT alumnus takes third place at international conducting competition

Juan Montoya of Columbia won third place in the prestigious Blue Danube International Opera Conducting Competition in Bulgaria in July.

Montoya graduated from UT in 2009 with dual master of music degrees in piano performance and orchestral conducting under the tutelage of Dr. Michael Boyd, Dr. Lee Heritage, Dr. Jason Stumbo and Rico McNeela.

Juan Montoya took a break during a rehearsal.

The conducting contest is held every two years, and the competition is fierce, as the prizes are coveted conducting jobs in Europe. Conductors from all over the world apply to compete, but only about 30 are awarded competition slots. Out of that number, 12 are chosen for the semifinals and only four for the finals.

At the close of the competition, the top three winners of the competition shared the conducting of a fully staged, full length performance of “Madama Butterfly.”

The other winners were, in first place, Chris McCracken of the United Kingdom, and second place, Nobuaki Nakata of Japan.

Juan Montoya, right, posed for a photo with the other winners of the Blue Danube International Opera Conducting Competition, Nobuaki Nakata, left, who came in second, and Chris McCracken, who came in first place. Montoya took third place.

As one of the winners, Montoya will have several professional engagements with different opera houses around the world. Confirmed engagements so far include concerts in Romania, Serbia, Egypt and Hungary, with more engagements to be scheduled in the coming months.

Montoya is also the recipient of two other international recognitions. He was awarded the golden baton for first place in the Concurso Internacional de Direccion 3.0 with the National Symphony Orchestra of Paraguay in 2016. He also received the jury special mention at the second edition Black Sea International Conducting Competition in Constanta, Romania, in 2016.

While working on his master of music degree at UT, Montoya studied with Stumbo, chair of the Music Department and director of bands.

“As his conducting professor, I kept him busy with score study and provided him opportunities to conduct and lead several chamber and large ensemble performances. He was always eager and prepared,” Stumbo said. “I’m not surprised to see him achieving at an international level, and I look forward to following what will surely be an incredibly successful career.”

Montoya also studied music composition with Heritage, associate professor of music.

“Although conducting has been the focus of Juan’s career, he is also a gifted composer. He wrote pieces during his student days at UT that were beautiful … they were so good that they were published professionally,” Heritage said. “During his last year at UT, his piano and composing skills came together when he wrote a concerto for piano and orchestra that won our concerto competition, and then he played it with the orchestra. Juan is truly a gifted musician.”

Listen to “Baba,” which won the UT concerto competition.

Soon after leaving UT, Montoya lived in Malaysia, where he conducted orchestras, including the Bentley Repertoire Symphony Orchestra. He also served as a music lecturer at Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia’s largest public university, and was the music director for its symphony orchestra. He was also assistant conductor for the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, among others, and was the music director of the Encounters Training Ensemble, both of which are housed in the Dewan Philharmonic Petronas in the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

He also worked with the Malaysian Ministry of Education, training several high school symphonic bands throughout the country, work that has taken him to several cities of this South East Asian country. His most recent performance in his native country of Colombia was as a guest conductor with the Universidad EAFIT Symphony Orchestra in 2013.

Montoya is pursuing a doctoral degree in orchestral conducting and opera under the guidance of Thomas Cockrell at the University of Arizona, where he is the music director of the UA Philharmonic Orchestra and the assistant conductor for the Arizona Symphony Orchestra.

Additionally, he is the principal guest conductor of the newly founded Kuala Lumpur City Opera in Malaysia.