Detroit Symphony Orchestra names Lopez-Yañez Principal Pops Conductor

Hailed for his theatrical style and innovative production approach, Enrico Lopez-Yañez has been named the new principal pops conductor for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Lopez-Yañez will succeed Jeff Tyzik, a fellow trumpeter who has held the post for more than a decade, and he'll join a DSO artistic team that includes music director Jader Bignamini, jazz chair Terence Blanchard and assistant conductor Na’Zir McFadden.

Born in the U.S. to what he calls a “very musical household” — his father is an opera singer, his mother a pianist — Lopez-Yañez, 34, grew up in Europe and California with wide-ranging musical tastes.

He gravitated to orchestral pops early in his career and eventually co-founded the music company Symphonica Productions.

“It seemed like such an innovative space for being creative, designing new programming and collaborating with new artists,” says Lopez-Yañez. “I was just really drawn to all the potential that existed in the pops space.”

His DSO work this season will include several programs, which he details below, and he’ll assume the role full-time with the 2024-25 season. His previous guest appearances have included a well-received pair of performances in southwest Detroit as part of the DSO’s Detroit Neighborhood Initiative.

Lopez-Yañez spoke with the Free Press ahead of Thursday’s announcement.

On his musical background

I started initially playing piano. My mom was my teacher, but I very quickly got sick of having her correct me from across the house, and I chose other instruments that she could not do so on. (Laughs) I switched to the trumpet and eventually played drums as well. And that enabled me to play in the school jazz band and the San Diego Youth Symphony. When I would travel down to Mexico, I'd play trumpet in mariachi groups. I played in a klezmer ensemble my mom led. I formed a rock band. I DJ'ed, did all those things. All kinds of different genres and styles.

I always had an interest in conducting, particularly opera to begin with, because I had grown up around that, seeing my father perform. It actually wasn't until my first professional job as assistant conductor at the Omaha Symphony that I even really knew pops was a thing. And once I became aware of that, I really fell in love with the genre because it was truly a combination of all the styles of music I grew up listening to, playing in, participating in, paired with my love of conducting.

On conducting pops performances versus traditional fare

The job itself is very similar. We're still conductors — we're still leading an ensemble and collaborating with guest artists and soloists and things like that. The difference really comes down to the repertoire and the variety of styles and genres that a pops conductor is called to both lead and know about and participate in.

On the classical side, you need to be an expert in different time periods and world styles. In pops, you similarly need to know different eras of music, different genres, different styles. … We're constantly looking for new artists that haven't ever performed with a symphony that we can create new arrangements for, that we can collaborate with, or create new genre-based shows.

The upcoming season here in Detroit includes a show called “Disco Fever” (May 17-19) that I did all the arrangements for. It’s a production I built from the ground up, as is this weekend's show, “Latin Fire” (Friday-Sunday). It's all charts that the trumpet player José Sibaja and I wrote, a show we designed together featuring the music of all Latin America.

On being drawn to the DSO

My first experiences with the orchestra were back in 2019 when I was invited to conduct some of their Education Concert Series, which are available both in person for schoolkids around metro Detroit and online across the country. The programming was really interesting to me. There's really no other orchestra that is doing education concerts that have such a far reach and such an impact on this type of scale. What I realized very quickly, once I was here, was just how committed the DSO is to not only education but to the community, really representing the interests and needs of the different audiences throughout the Detroit area.

They're incredibly passionate about making sure we represent all different types of voices, all different types of artists. Though a lot of orchestras claim to do the same thing, the Detroit Symphony actually does that, which is incredible. And that's something that really drew me to the organization. Not to mention, of course, just the incredible level of playing the musicians and orchestra have, which is truly world class. Every time I come, it's such a pleasure to make music with them. They're not only fantastic classical players, but they have the flexibility to play in all different genres, all different styles at an incredible level.

On his high-energy artistic style

One of the other things I always loved growing up was theatricality, whether that was acting or video work or film editing. So a lot of the shows I build or create have a little more interactive quality to them. This weekend, we're doing a show called “Dr. FREAKuency's Major Monster Bash” (11 a.m. Saturday) where I’m a crazy mad scientist who is creating a monster to scare away trick-or-treaters who keep trying to steal my candy. There are on-screen video elements, all of which I created and produced and edited, and there are other actors onstage, which I worked to direct from the script that I wrote. So it's really a combination of all these different loves from my childhood coming to life onstage.

There are some surprises in the “Latin Fire” show this weekend. We do this whole little “Carmen” suite at the end — a full recap of the opera, which is three hours or so, in about 10 minutes. The disco show later this season has an onstage dance-off for audience

So we always try to add a little something special to the kinds of pops and education and family shows I do, which I really love.

On succeeding Jeff Tyzik at the DSO

Jeff and I know each other well. He’s obviously just a titan of our industry.

There are so many aspects of his career I admire, both him as a person and as a trumpet player. He, too, is a composer and arranger and a pops conductor, which are all the things that I've tried to build upon in my career. I've not only had the pleasure of meeting him and having lunches with him, but anytime I conduct one of the shows he has created, he’s the first person to reach out — “I would love to help you and give you some of the inside scoop on this show and some of the tricks and things you might need to know.” He's just so caring and thoughtful, always wanting to help and make sure everything is successful. And I admire him deeply for that.

Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press
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