Alumnus Finds International Conducting Success

Most travelers are frustrated when a flight gets canceled. Garrett Keast, BM ’95, Life Member, turned it into an opportunity.

Keast, living in New York at the time, was stuck in Paris last May due to a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland. All flights back to the United States were canceled.

“It was my mom’s idea, actually,” he chuckles. “She said I should try asking my manager if anyone in Europe needed a conductor on short notice.”

Keast pulled out his cell phone, and within a day had a gig lined up at the North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra in Holland.

Now Keast is preparing to start a new position at Deutsche Oper Berlin, after debuting at the Opera de Paris with an Oct. 13 performance of Faust.

The globetrotting conductor has come a long way since his days in the Spring Branch High School band outside Houston. After setting foot on a stage for the first time in a fifth grade musical, Keast was hooked on music. He took up the trombone in junior high school and cites his band teacher as an inspiration.

“I saw him up there, having fun, doing music every day, and I thought, ‘I want to be that guy,’” Keast says.

At UT’s Butler School, he thrived, majoring in music studies and thinking about a career in music education. Keast always wanted to be a conductor, but he didn’t think he could do it on a national level until one summer in college.

After meeting Stephen Stein, a conductor-in-residence at the Houston Symphony, Keast regularly drove from Austin to Houston for conducting lessons with Stein. “Every other weekend for my last two years at UT, I went to work with him,” Keast says. “You have to find something special that gives you an extra edge, and for me that was it.”

Conducting opera is especially challenging, Keast says, because the conductor works with not only an orchestra, but also the singers and actors on stage. “You have to be more of a traffic cop,” he explains. “There’s a lot going on. I love it all—the sets, the costumes, the drama.”

When he’s not on stage, Keast loves following college football. His search for a bar in Paris where he could watch Longhorn games led him to the Paris Texas Exes, who watch the games at a Canadian-owned bar. Last week, he arrived at the bar to find it packed with Flying Longhorns on a trip to France. “It was a little surreal to see that many Texans in France,” Keast says, “I almost felt just like I was at a sports bar in Dallas or Houston.”

 

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