The diverse professional activities of Colombian born conductor, musicologist, and pedagogue, Dr. César Leal, often intersect. His interest in interdisciplinarity and collaboration inform his scholarly and artistic projects and reflect his passion for teaching as well as his love for Liberal Arts education.
Leal’s research interests include music and culture during fin-de-siècle Paris, Franco-American artistic interactions, soundscapes, Jewish patronage and modernism, Latin American cultural identities in the U.S., and race, class, and gender relations in music. He received the prestigious Kennedy Fellowship, which supported his scholarly and creative projects between 2017-2019.
His musicological output involves scholarly (peer-reviewed) publications as well as interdisciplinary creative projects. He has presented scholarly papers in the U.S., Canada, Greece, Japan, Italy, France, England, Peru, Colombia, and Switzerland. In 2018, Leal was invited by Musikproduktion Hoeflich to join the project Repertoire Explorer Series, for which he produces introductory essays for new editions of works by Parisian composers of fin-de-siècle Paris such as Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Pierné, and Camille Chevillard.
In 2018, Leal collaborated with Greg Pond (visual artist), Banning Bouldin (choreographer), Jessica Usherwood (soprano), and Charles Stehno (computer programmer) in the interdisciplinary project Guncotton, which received the 2018 ArtPrize award. His scholarly contributions include “Écouter le Scandale et la Transgression: Les Modèles Révisionnistes de l’Histriographie Musicale Basés sur l’Étude Du Paysage Sonore” (Nîmes: Lucie Éditions, 2015), and “Sponsoring and Constructing Modernism: Jewish Patronage, Entrepreneurs, and Cultural Mediation in Paris during Fin-de-siècle” (forthcoming—Ad Parnasum). Currently Leal and recognized musicologist Diana Hallman are editing a collection of essays entitled “America in the French Imaginary.”
Leal’s conducting activities also reflect his own research interests. In addition to conducting in academic settings, he has also led professional ensembles across the U.S., Panama, Colombia, France, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine. The program for his debut with the Panama National Symphony Orchestra in July 2014 featured works from the fin-de-siècle (1880-1913) that bridged European and Latin American musical traditions. He returned to Panama during the summer of 2019, this time, as director the Alfredo de Saint-Malo International Music Festival. His program included Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique and Gavilan’s Guaguancó.
In 2017, Leal collaborated with the American Spiritual Ensemble in a concert version of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. His most recent artistic collaborations with professional orchestras include the Chattanooga Symphony and the Murfreesboro Symphony (2019). He also has collaborated with world-renowned sopranos and opera stars Kallen Esperian and Cynthia Lawrence as well as baritone Reginald Smith Jr., Metropolitan Opera National Auditions Winner (2015).
The Ensemble of Variable Geometry, a music performance/research organization founded and directed by Maestro Leal, has featured projects such as a full-staged ballet production of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun, and Chopin’s Les Syplhides (in collaboration with Lexington Ballet), Carreño’s Golpe en el Diafragma, Berio’s O king, and Mahler’s Symphony 4.
Maestro Leal has served as the artistic director and conductor of the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where he also served as a member of both the faculty and the artistic advisory committee of the internationally recognized Sewanee Summer Music Festival.
An advocate of young musicians, Maestro Leal often teaches conducting workshops and acts as a guest clinician with youth orchestras in the U.S. and abroad. Since 2015, he has taught a conducting masterclass at the KIIS summer program in Salzburg. For the 2017-2018 season he was named artist in residence for the prestigious orchestral program at Stevenson High School in Chicago. He has been invited by the Illinois Music Educators Association as a guest conductor for their Honor’s Orchestra (2019).
As an adjudicator, Leal is often invited to be part of important national and regional competitions such as the Midwest Young Artists concerto competition (Chicago, IL), Jacqueline Avent concerto competition (Sewanee Summer Music Festival, TN), as well as the CSO youth orchestras (Chattanooga, TN) and the Tennessee Tech University (Cookeville, TN) concerto competitions.
Leal holds a PhD in Musicology from the University of Kentucky, a masters in instrumental conducting from Florida International University, and a Bachelors in Music Performance from Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá.