Simón Gollo, associate professor of violin, came to Furman this year with a vision for his students.
“I want them learning the Latin American repertoire,” he said. “It will be very important to have the students get information about Latin American composers, particularly the huge repertoire for violin.”
Working with the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to developing young Black and Latino classical musicians, Gollo, who was born in Venezuela, is using a catalog of about 1,000 solo violin pieces by Latin American (or Ibero-American, a term Gollo favors to describe the regions with strong connections to Spain and Portugal) composers.
His favorites include Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, who revolutionized traditional tango music with elements of jazz and classical music; Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose music incorporated the folklore of his native country; Manuel Ponce, whose compositions were strongly influenced by Mexican popular song and folklore; and Spanish classical composer Joaquín Turina.
Gollo hopes that the U.S. observance of Hispanic Heritage Month will help others to re-examine their preconceived notions.
“This country’s making an effort to embrace Hispanic culture,” he said. “Now, we can also see that regarding music. Hispanic culture is much more than mariachis and reggaeton.”
Gollo, who left Venezuela as a preteen, considers himself culturally “half European and half Hispanic.”
He studied at two prestigious conservatories in Switzerland and worked with El Sistema, a renowned music education program in Venezuela. In Switzerland, he first encountered the music of French Romantic composer Ernest Chausson, which he would record years later in a widely praised 2020 album for IBS Classical.
As a soloist and as a member of chamber music ensembles, Gollo has performed in more than 500 cities in more than 28 countries. He performed in several ensembles specializing in Latin American music, including a Latin Grammy-nominated album with La Catrina Quintet. He is also a member of the Reverón Piano Trio, an ensemble of U.S.-based Venezuelan musicians devoted to introducing audiences to underrepresented music from Latin America.
In 2022, Gollo and his family left New Mexico State University, where he had taught violin and conducted the philharmonic orchestra since 2016, for Greenville, South Carolina.
“Everything is going great,” he said. “People are extremely welcoming, which is wonderful.”
In addition to his work at Furman, Gollo will also serve as artistic director of the New England Music Camp at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Maine – and continue his intercontinental musical explorations.
“It’s been a beautiful journey,” he said.
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