Carlos Miguel Prieto, who will lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a Latin-themed program July 17 at the Ravinia Festival, did not set out to become a conductor.
After graduating from Princeton with an engineering degree and Harvard with an MBA, Prieto realized in his heart that he wanted to pursue music somehow. Born into a musical family in Mexico City, he studied violin from age 4; his father was the acclaimed cellist Carlos Prieto. His paternal grandparents knew Stravinsky, and his grandfather was a board member of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico.
As a young man, he did not view college as a means to an end. “[Education] was not so much about, you know, doing well to get a good job, he said in an interview with the Harvard Business School Alumni Magazine. “I guess that’s in everybody’s mind, but I always saw it as an incredible intellectual challenge.”
He views the skills he developed at Harvard as integral to his podium career. “Public speaking, thinking twice before you open your mouth, analyzing the big picture — all these things, they were incredibly helpful,” said Prieto, a regular guest conductor with the CSO (he last appeared at Orchestra Hall in December). He’s now music director of Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico, since 2007, and also at New Orleans’ Louisiana Philharmonic, since 2005. “Music is not about notes or about melody. It is about learning from people around you, learning about how other people express themselves.”