MEET THE MUSICIANS: Francisco Castillo


Growing up in the vibrant and bustling city of San Jose, Costa Rica, oboe-player and composer Francisco Castillo’s childhood was filled with music, art, dance and soccer. Lots of soccer. He attended the K-12 School for the Arts in Costa Rica, enjoying “just being a kid exploring.” But then the principal got strict and declared that because it was an art school, the students needed to choose a subject and stick to it. There was only one oboe in the school, which several students had to share, including the reed. For those who don’t know about woodwind instruments, reeds are fickle and quite an intimate part of the process, having to be shaved down to just the right fit for each individual player. After a couple embarrassing recitals, most students at the school abandoned the oboe leaving Francisco to continue with the instrument, enjoying the challenge, which, ultimately led to a career. 

However, alongside playing, Mr. Castillo started composing as well, majoring in oboe, conducting and composition in college. He first attended the University of Costa Rica, then transferred to Cal State Northridge, eventually receiving his Master’s from the University of Southern California. It was at USC that Francisco first met Maestro Victor Vener, who was playing French Horn (his first instrument prior to conducting) in a concert. Years later, Francisco saw an audition notice for the Pasadena Pops, started by Maestro Vener. He won the audition and still remembers their first performance, a fundraiser at a house concert. Later, when Dr. Vener created the Cal Phil, he invited Francisco to continue on with him. “It’s been a long ride. A very fun ride,” Castillo says of his work with the Cal Phil. “Vic has a way of handling the audience. Audiences love Victor.” Francisco comments on how, in turn, the musicians feel that “wonderful connection” with the audience, as well. Mr. Castillo serves as principal oboist of the California Philharmonic Orchestra, the Redlands Symphony and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra. He has performed with the San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New West Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, Riverside Philharmonic, Burbank Symphony Orchestra, San Bernardino Orchestra and the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Castillo also records for films scores and CDs. Most recently, Francisco recorded the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra by Charles Fernandez with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, England under the direction of the composer. Francisco Castillo’s own work as a composer harkens back to his creative youth in Costa Rica where he would collaborate with dance groups and theater companies. In 1979, he was the winner of the Costa Rica National prize in composition for his orchestral work, “TUPACK AMARU”. Presently, he still writes specifically for instrumentalists he knows, as he did for specific dancers and their style of movement, making the artistic creation very personal. He has had numerous pieces premiered by the Pasadena Pops Orchestra as well as by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Woodwind Quartet.

Yet, throughout his life of music, his love and devotion for soccer remains. Francisco wrote “The Fanfare for a Soccer Championship” which was premiered during the celebrations of the 1994 World Cup of Soccer, held in Los Angeles. He follows soccer teams, especially in the US and Costa Rica, such as the Los Angeles Galaxy and Costa Rican Saprissa, and finds himself in quite a conflict if the two are playing each other. Francisco has even run into Victor Vener, quite coincidentally, at soccer games.

Mr. Castillo is also a restaurant aficionado. He enjoys sampling the plethora of fine cuisine found here in Southern California, and is able to do so, through his freelance life-style. Travelling from gig to job with all the extensive teaching he does in between, Francisco finds himself in various parts of SoCal. Enjoyment of life is important to him. “When I play,” he declares, “I want to enjoy it.” Music is not just a job for him. “I’m looking for the spiritual essence of music,” he says. An essence the California Philharmonic and its players have been generating for over two decades.

California Philharmonic