Hospitality and tourism management professor will perform guitar concerto in RSO season opener
The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s season opener this fall will include the U.S. premiere of a concerto for guitar and orchestra by a composer who teaches and does research on hospitality and tourism in his day job at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business.
Juan Luis Nicolau, the Marriott Professor of Revenue Management in the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, will perform his own work on the Sept. 29 opening night, as the guitar soloist for “In the Mariola Mountains,” inspired by the highlands around his hometown of Muro de Alcoy, Spain.
The composition won Nicolau the Gold Medal at the 2015 Global Music Awards. The concerto’s performance in Roanoke will mark its debut in the U.S., said Nicolau, who moved to Blacksburg in 2017 with his family.
“The RSO and I are excited to welcome Professor Juan Nicolau to the stage this fall to open our 65th season,” said music director and conductor David Stewart Wiley.
“Juan has composed a gorgeous concerto for guitar and orchestra that I know our audience will love — uplifting music that springs from the beauty and majesty of mountains. His beautiful work will inspire those among us who love mountains.”
Nicolau previously taught at the University of Alicante, on the southeastern coast of Spain, where he had earned a bachelor’s degree and then a Ph.D. in economics and business.
He built a distinguished career there, becoming the youngest person in Spain to be appointed a full professor of marketing and receiving numerous honors for both teaching and research, including being the University of Alicante’s Professor of the Year and being ranked among the world’s top 25 tourism researchers.
He was in his third year as dean of the College of Economics and Business when Virginia Tech beckoned, and Nicolau, who had done stints as a visiting scholar in the U.S., viewed the move as both an “appealing challenge” and a great opportunity for a new experience, personally and professionally.
As a researcher, Nicolau has focused on the decision-making processes behind both individual choices and firm market value.
Some of his recent studies have examined pricing factors of rental accommodations on Airbnb, the effects of distance and first-time visitation on tourists’ length of stay, the effects of online hotel ratings, and the business effects of sports wins.
In classical guitar, Nicolau has won a string of national and international accolades as a performer and composer.
He started learning classical guitar at the age of 10. In the beginning, it was just for fun, he recalled, but by the time he entered his teens, he was playing 16 hours a day during the summers and becoming “very disciplined and systematic” about rehearsing and practicing.
He has performed on several occasions with the Alicante Symphony Orchestra as the guitar soloist on Rodrigo’s "Concierto de Aranjuez." At one performance, when he was a student, someone remarked backstage to Nicolau that “business and music do not have much in common.”
For Nicolau, however, music and academics are definitely interconnected. The creativity that is given free rein in music “leads one to explore, consciously or unconsciously, other dimensions in other facets in life,” he said.
In teaching, being creative helps one make an impact on students, he noted. And, in research, “the art dimension helps one look at things from different angles and prisms.”
At Virginia Tech, audiences were treated to Nicolau’s guitar artistry at two events featuring flamenco and other Spanish dance organized by Olé at VT last fall and spring semesters. He has been a soloist with an orchestra on many occasions, he said, but his most frequent performances have been as a solo guitarist.
“The feeling you sense when playing in a concert is unique, as you are communicating through music; and when the composition comes from your own creativity and inspiration, this feeling is, simply put, ineffable.”