Soaring 20s

New West Symphony’s “Rococo Variations” features young musical talent

One is from Venezuela, the other from Chicago. Both began their musical journeys shortly after they outgrew diapers. Both are, still, well shy of their 30th birthdays.

Guest conductor Enluis Montes Olivar (age 26) and cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing (age 20) are also two of classical music’s brightest talents, and will headline New West Symphony’s “Rococo Variations” concerts on Jan. 28 in Thousand Oaks and Jan. 29 in Camarillo. The diverse program of works by Tchaikovsky, Ginastera, Romero and Zhou Tian — like the guest artists — embodies New West Symphony’s ongoing mission to highlight composers, compositions and performers that represent the best of the “fresh” and the “familiar.”

And, given their already illustrious careers (brief as they may be), both Montes Olivar and Ali-Landing promise to become even more familiar to music audiences in the coming years.

“I want to conduct!”

Enluis Montes Olivar well remembers the first big orchestra concert he attended, at age 6, and the answer he gave when he was asked, “What instrument would you like to play?” “I want to conduct!” he declared.

“From the first day,” he recalls, “the conductor impressed me the most; he was the one guiding the whole team. I was told, you have to play an instrument first. But I wanted to conduct most of all.”

And so he did, enrolling in the El Sistema music education program for underserved youth that was founded in Venezuela in 1975 and is now worldwide. By age 11, he had conducted the orchestra and choir of his native Guanare (and, soon, many orchestras in South America), and was so highly regarded that he served two years as Dudamel Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Having received both main prizes at last year’s II International Orchestra Conducting Competition, Montes Olivar is currently assistant conductor of Columbus State University’s Schwob Philharmonic and Opera in Georgia, as well as the Columbus Ballet. Later this year, he will serve as an assistant conductor to Gustavo Dudamel in an Opéra National de Paris production of John Adams’ Nixon in China.

Critics have acknowledged the love, passion and expert musicianship Montes Olivar brings to his craft. Just as important, though, is his deep desire to involve and collaborate with the entire orchestra in making every piece, no matter how familiar it may be, sound new.

“Every orchestra in the world has personalities who have ideas and bring them to the conductor,” he says. “So you have to work together to create that sound for the audience. For me, the most beautiful thing is to get that music into my bones, my blood and my mind, and say, ‘Here is this amazing masterpiece I want to share with you,’ and create the best idea possible.”

The “Rococo Variations” program, Montes Olivar continues, offers plentiful opportunities for the whole orchestra to shine. “And then,” he adds, “we have an amazing young cellist in Ifetayo Ali-Landing, who is part of a wonderful generation of talented, hard-working young musicians. So it will be amazing to share music, and I am totally excited to be back to Los Angeles, which I love.”

“Making music bring[s] me joy”

Ifetayo Ali-Landing was just 2 years old when her violinist mother, founder of the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute of music in Chicago, started her daughter on the violin. Ali-Landing switched to cello at age 4, and has never looked back.

“I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think it’s the best instrument in the orchestra,” she says, speaking by phone from the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) where she is a junior. “You can play any emotion on the cello. It’s very easy to listen to, very mellow and calming. When you hear it, it’s like someone is singing to you.”

Ali-Landing’s list of accomplishments and kudos certainly speak to the wisdom of her choice of instrument. In 2013, at age 10, she was honored at the Friends of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Rising Stars Showcase, where she recorded the first movement of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1. To date, the video has more than 105,000 YouTube views and more than 15 million Facebook views.

At the 2016 Sphinx Competition in Detroit, Ali-Landing earned second-place laureate honors in the junior division, and a year later claimed first place. She has since performed with the Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and New World symphonies, to name a very few, as well as on NPR’s “From The Top” and “Tiny Desk Concerts” programs.

She also studied at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles before transferring last fall to CIM. But she is thrilled to return to Southern California to perform with New West Symphony — specifically, Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” and, from Zhou Tian’s Cello Concerto, “Flowing Sleeves.”

“The Tchaikovsky piece is something I played four or five years ago, and it’s kind of a core piece for cellists,” she notes. “But it’s my first time playing ‘Flowing Sleeves,’ so I’m really excited to present both pieces.”

And while she admits that “practice can be a little tedious sometimes, and doing schoolwork on the plane on my way home from a concert can be challenging,” the process of making music “is still fun.”

“I enjoy almost every part of it,” smiles the energetic young cellist, whose first name, fittingly, means “love and joy” in Nigerian. “Playing the cello and making music for people bring me joy.”


“Rococo Variations” will be presented by New West Symphony on Saturday, Jan. 28, 7:30 p.m., at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; and on Sunday, Jan. 29, 3 p.m. at the Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center, 4235 Mar Vista Dr., Camarillo. For tickets and more information, call 866-776-8400 or visit