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San Germán, Puerto Rico

Performs On:

Boston Classic RH-14k gold with Silver Keys and Brögger System™

Artist Bio

Josué Casillas (Puerto Rico)


Josué Casillas is the principal flutist of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico (OSPR) and the flute professor at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico (CMPR).

Casillas won the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and the National Flute Association Master Class Competitions in 1986. He has performed the Ibert Flute Concerto with the CIM Chamber Orchestra in Toledo, Ohio, and with the OSPR in San Juan. After winning the Festival de Orquestas Sinfónicas Juveniles de América Solo Competition in 1990, Josue Casillas was invited to be guest artist at the Festival Mayormente Mozart in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the following ten consecutive years. He has presented solo recitals at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, the Universidad de Puerto Rico and the CMPR. Casillas appeared in the 2008 Casals Festival with Camerata Caribe, chamber music group in residence at the CMPR.

Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Casillas started his flute studies with family members, and at his hometown church. At the age of 15, Josué was already performing with relatives Nilda D. Betancourt Casillas, now professor of piano at the Interamerican University, San Germán, Puerto Rico, and David E. Betancourt Casillas, now in the first violin section of the OSPR. At that age, he became the youngest flutist hired by the Instituto de Cultura to perform with the Banda Estatal de Puerto Rico. He studied with Leslie López at the Escuela Libre de Música de San Juan, graduating from high school Summa Cum Laude, and then with Peter Kern (then-principal flutist of the OSPR) at the CMPR.

Josué continued his university-level training at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Maurice Sharp, Cleveland Orchestra’s Principal Flutist and earned his Bachelors in Music, and his Artist Diploma just a year later. At CIM, Josue studied chamber music with harpist Alice Chalifoux and oboist John Mack. He performed in the CIM orchestras under conductors Carl Topilow, Louis Lane, Jahja Ling, Michael Stern, and Pierre Boulez.

At CIM, Josué received scholarships from the National Endowment for the Arts and The Music Assistance Fund of The NY Philharmonic Orchestra. These grants enabled Josué to attend summer music festivals such as The Grand Teton and Blossom Music Festivals, where he worked with Philadelphia Orchestra’s solo flutist, Jeffrey Khaner. While at CIM, Josué Casillas also studied with Martha Aarons (flutist, Cleveland Orchestra) who encouraged Casillas to attend the Aspen Music Festival. At Aspen, Casillas worked with Mark Sparks (principal flutist, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra). In 1991, he attended the Ecóle de Formation Musicale (Nice, France), where he studied with renowned flute masters Maxence Larrieu (professor, Géneva Conservartory) and Raymond Guiot (professor, Paris Conservatoire).

In 1994, Casillas was awarded an internship with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, which enabled him to complete his M.M. at Rice University, where he studied with Aralee Dorough (principal flutist, Houston Symphony) and Carol Wincenc (solo concert artist). While in Houston, Casillas also organized his own chamber music group, The Keynote Chamber Players, presenting monthly recitals, some broadcasted on KUHF, Houston’s classical radio station. Josué Casillas has served as principal flutist with the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra during five consecutive seasons and with the Symphony of Southeast Texas for three years. In Houston, Josué performed under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach, Steven Stein, and  Vjekoslav Sutej, among others.

In 2006, Josué was invited to perform as soloist with TOCCATA, The Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area, in their Big Blue Summer Fest. He was received with such enthusiasm that he returned in 2007 and 2008 as principal guest artist, and looks forward to continuing the collaboration.

Currently, Josué Casillas mantains a busy schedule performing and teaching in his beloved San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as in the US and Latin America.

Artist Interview

Josué Casillas (Puerto Rico)


We had the opportunity to ask Josué a few questions. Check out his thoughts on his experience winning the flute position for the top orchestra in Puerto Rico, getting a homogenous sound in an orchestral flute section, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.


1. What was your experience auditioning for and winning the flute position for the top orchestra in Puerto Rico?

Winning was marvelous, of course!

In 2001, I had a part-time job as principal flute in the Symphony of Southeast Texas and a clerical job at a tax firm in downtown Houston. The Puerto Rico Symphony, a full-time national orchestra, had an opening for principal in 2004, which I won.

Now, getting there took me about three years of intensive, focused practice, and desire, lots of desire!! A friend of mine from Nebraska used to say: be careful of what you wish for – you may as well GET IT!! And from 2001 to 2004, I became focused on my product: this piece of cold metal that my air makes warm and makes (most) people smile. But my 6:15 am daily practice may not have gone unnoticed by the neighbors! Therefore I mostly practiced first and second octave long tones, Taffanel & Gaubert, and pleasant etudes in the mornings. Then breakfast! It is good to practice a solid good hour fasting. It disciplines your body to realize the magnitude and importance of what you’re doing, and it helps your ability to focus. And at 7:45 off to my day-job! A couple of times a week I would take my flute to practice during my lunch hour in the parking lot! (Houston, Texas has fair weather, so it didn’t matter). After work, my daily routine was:

5:15 gym - to respect and nurture your body is as essential, if not more, than flute playing. Pablo Casals said: first I am a man, second an artist, third a musician (paraphrased). If you don’t feel good about yourself, how can you win?

6:00 – dinner

7:00 until bed time! – practice pieces and excerpts from memory, or mock-audition for my friends. The important thing is that I made sure to stay focused on my goal and to remain positive. This was the mindset I had for this audition. Imagine that you’ve given a five-minute chance that will determine whether or not you’ll get the job you have dreamed of all your life. Winning would justify all those student loans, and the 200+ hours spent on the opening phrase of the Afternoon of a Faun!

Therefore, for three long years, I kept this up! I also kept a detailed journal of my progress noting my feelings and reasons I NEEDED to win this job. You see, it is not only the impeccable tuning, rhythm and technique that will get you there. What gives one the cutting edge lies in the heart. To get the job ultimately depends on how much you really want it, and on how much you are willing to do in preparation for the big 5-minute audition.


2. What is your life/schedule like as a full-time symphony player?

Play, teach, beach, workout at the gym, summer travel to teach/perform in Costa Rica and/or Lake Tahoe. Sounds ideal? Of course it is! It is my lifetime dream come true! Think about it-you get a lifetime job in your hometown, with everything included, benefits, friends, the island itself, the amazing cuisine, and the nicest people in the world.


3. How do you go about getting a homogenous sound in an orchestral flute section?

Most important: respect for my colleagues, some of whom have been there for 20 years. Essential is love and dedication to your art, which transpires into intensive practice to ALWAYS present a consistent performance, worthy of everyone’s admiration, including the hardest people to please, your flute section. In spite of differing styles and interpretations, nothing helps more than a quiet, respectful principal who’s very precise and eloquent with his/her instrument. And (in most cases) everything else falls into place.


4.  What is the most valuable lesson that the flute has taught you?

The most valuable lesson is the inner gift of honesty, to step out of yourself and hear objectively, like a listener hears. Therefore, each piece of music should be practiced long enough until you can hear your own performance and be happy, truly comfortable with it. True artistic development and technical growth comes from assessing your true potential and improving your shortcomings. In my flute studio at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, I tell each and all of my students to record themselves every week. When listening to playback, I ask them to find 5 good things in their playing, and 5 specific things to improve. This way, they learn to be objective constantly. However, music is objective and also, subjective. Objective because Mozart and Beethoven have to be performed in an acceptable style, passed through generations of musicians. Music is subjective because we are all subject to personal opinion and personal taste. Therefore, you have to love what you hear in order to perform it, and be proud of your musical product in order to present it to your audience. Honesty is an essential tool for unbiased assessment of your talent and true potential. Stay true to yourself.

 

5. Who were/are your biggest influences on your flute playing?

I studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Rice University, summers at the Ecole Nationale de Musique in Nice, France, and at Aspen Music School in Colorado, so I’ve studied with a lot of fantastic teachers. But the teacher who, in fact, gave me the most honest and real assessment of my playing was Jeffrey Khaner at the Blossom Summer School in 1986, when I was 22 years old. In just a few lessons, Jeff changed the way I think about the flute. But great teachers only work if you are ready to learn. So you must listen intensively to your own heart, your own voice, and find yourself, eager and willing to learn.

 

6. Focusing on orchestral music year round, what do you do for inspiration when playing the same repertoire and solo excerpts over and over again?

Re-apply. Re-inspire. Reinvent. About a year ago, I was invited to teach a masterclass in Costa Rica, but it conflicted with a Season Concert of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Oh my, I have played every flute part of this piece at least three times on the second flute and a dozen times on first flute; I was ready to hand it over to my Assistant and teach in Costa RIca, but a Principal Player is not allowed to take a Leave-of Absence during our Season Concerts at the PRSO. The piece was quite enjoyable, after studying the score and re-discovering new nuances through Maestro Valdes, who had just been appointed the previous Season. It’s very interesting, getting what you want is very simple. Once you get it, is very quiet and simple. The hard part is climbing the ladder to success, and staying focused until you have arrived where you want to be.

 

7. Many flutists are currently preparing excerpts for orchestral auditions, what excerpts/pieces do you find to be the most challenging and why?

Maybe the first three that I may consider are:

Beethoven Leonore #3: Opening passage- focus on breath control and intonation; Solo - Focus on style, tempo, tuning and articulation.

Saint-Saens Volière: Focus on accuracy, and fluidity of the musical line, just like a bird flying up and down. And the solo from Brahms 4th Symphony. Please, very rhythmical and singing.

But the most crucial factor to win any audition relies on mere essentials: rhythm, tuning, and sound. I always tell the story of the HGO Orchestra sub-list audition: When I served as Principal flutist of the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, we held auditions for the sub-list. Of course, we had about fifty candidates, but only one winner! Out of fifty!. And she was the only one who could play in perfect rhythm, good sound and impeccable intonation. Therefore, practice intensively, and listen carefully, and objectively, of course!

 

8. What advice can you give to others preparing for auditions as far as nerves are concerned?

Nerves never go away. In fact, as you get older and become more keenly aware of your humanity, with all its virtues and limitations, performing can become much more nerve-wracking. Therefore, befriend your nerves. They will serve you greatly if you do this. First, you have to question the reason why you are nervous: new audiences, hard passages, high expectations. Practice is the antidote to controlling hard passages, and visualization helps greatly. But please, be real and expect only what you can give. This artistic career is only upon your shoulders, not anyone elses’, and concerts and auditions have the importance that you give them. EVERY audition is important, and every concert is a permanent impression of who you are and what you are made of. So, always find the time to practice, study, and read about everything that relates to your art, and take yourself very seriously. I feel that, in our 21st Century, with so many distractions and choices in our daily living, classical musicians carry the torch of focused discipline and tradition for our future generations. Therefore, no matter where you are, Puerto Rico, Canada, Ohio, you are important, and your “jitters”,  your uneasy nerves, are just proof of this fact. Therefore, listen to your body: if you can’t sleep go study, read, listen. If you can’t practice out of nervousness, breathe deeply and play slowly, easy. Control your body, your breath. If you have too many thoughts, write them down, and rest in silence. But by all means, never ignore nerves and gut feelings. They are our body’s alarm-system to help us improve and become much better in what we do, this amazing gift of music.

 

9. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?

In 2007, Miyazawa Artist Tadeu Coelho came to present a Master Class at the CMPR where I teach a studio of 12 undergraduate students. Until then, I had been performing on a 1984 Haynes Flute. For 24 years, I played my Haynes with headjoints by Jack Moore and Drelinger. Please, understand that I got into The Cleveland Institute of Music with an Armstrong! Therefore, I got used to really working hard on any instrument. After trying out Tadeu's amazing platinum flute, with its smooth Brogger System mechanism and its marvelous headjoint, I realized that I needed a change. I went to the NFA Albuquerque Convention and compared all the flutes there. From the standpoint of sonority, tuning and mechanism, I confirmed that Miyazawa was an outstanding flute and an excellent choice for me. After long conversations with Miyazawa’s Vice President, Cathy Miller, I understood that Miyazawa’s commitment to constant improvement and honest openness with its clients was the ideal company that I wanted to be affiliated with. But most important is that my Miyazawa 14k gold instrument does exactly what I need it to do! Its platinum riser enables it to be extremely responsive, as to play subtle Beethoven’s high register pianissimos, as well as a crisp low register staccato in the Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo. Also, my instrument’s precise Brogger System mechanism enables me to flow through Stravinsky’s Firebird Variation effortlessly. The instrument is as versatile as I dreamed it to be. My Miyazawa is my dream flute perfectly fit for my dream job!


10. If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
 
Practice!! Dream big! But base your hopes on reality. How to know if you got what it takes? Listen to yourself in recordings, in large halls, in small practice rooms; listen not only to your flute but to your heart and feelings. Also listen to what everyone says about you, especially your friends! You’ll be surprised on how much one learns from those who criticize us!

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