Costa Rican graduate guitar student finds a new stage at URI

Adrian Montero Moya will premiere guitar concerto by renowned Costa Rican composer with the URI Symphony Orchestra on April 22

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 10, 2023 – Adrian Montero Moya says he doesn’t believe in destiny. But there are moments in his 27 years, he admits, that have the feeling of fate, or at least good luck.

Case in point: How the Costa Rican native chose the University of Rhode Island to pursue a master of music degree in classical guitar performance.

An accomplished classical guitarist, Montero Moya had dreamed of going to graduate school in Germany, but never found time to learn the language. Then, he saw a Facebook post from Adam Levin, an internationally recognized classical guitarist and URI’s professor of classical guitar.

“It was the middle of December in 2021 and I decided that I had to go to graduate school,” says Montero Moya, who earned his bachelor’s degree at the National University of Costa Rica in 2018. “I was already too late to apply to most schools in the United States. Then the next day, I saw a post on Facebook by Adam Levin, asking ‘Hey, do you want to come and study with me?’ And I sent him a message, ‘I do.’ It was just like that.”

Montero Moya came to URI last August with a long resume that includes two albums and numerous collaborations with Latin American composers. In Kingston, he has taught music theory and introductory classes. “Adrian came to URI as a seasoned teacher,” says Levin. “He’s very knowledgeable as well as approachable so students feel comfortable asking him for further assistance.”

Montero Moya, who has won numerous international guitar competitions since he was 15, has also shown his skill on stage. Last October, he gave the U.S. premiere performance of “Diabolical Rumours” by Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso, at the internationally recognized URI Guitar Festival. Also in the fall, he won the URI Music Department’s Concerto Competition, performing the Adagio from the famous “Concerto de Aranjuez” by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. As his prize, Montero Moya will solo with the URI Symphony Orchestra Saturday, April 22, debuting a concerto for guitar and orchestra written for him by Jose Mora-Jimenez, one of Costa Rica’s premier composers.

“Adrian is a tour de force as a guitarist,” says Levin. “His technical mastery is impressive. However, it shines even brighter because of his natural and fluid musicality. He truly speaks with the guitar in hand. On top of being a superb musician, he is such a nice guy. In the music business, the last thing you want to deal with is a diva. Adrian is the opposite. He’s a mensch. It’s one of the many ingredients that will serve him well in the music world.”

Montero Moya took his first steps in the music world at age 6 when he insisted his mother sign him up for lessons. Today, he isn’t sure where his desire to play guitar came from, and says maybe it was destiny. His parents weren’t musicians and he grew up in a small town, Tuetal Norte. His mother does have a story, he says. When he was about 4, Adrian and his mother went Christmas shopping and he saw a plastic guitar, and his eyes got very big.

“Christmas eve, I opened my gifts and I had some cars and other random gifts,” he says. “And then I saw the guitar. I just picked it up and fell in love.”

As he progressed through the local arts school and private lessons, the discipline of long hours of practice seemingly came naturally. “I never thought, ‘Now, I’m going to take it seriously,’” he says. “For me it was always like that. Obviously when you’re 7 or 8, you’re not thinking I’m going to make a living doing this. But I already knew I wanted to be a musician and travel the world playing music.”

As he progressed and worked with a growing list of teachers, he inherited a passion for classical guitar and the works of contemporary Latin American composers, such as Alejandro Cardona and Mora-Jimenez. 

“I want to be the voice of these composers. I feel a huge responsibility to do that,” he says. “I feel freer playing that music. This is the language that speaks to me directly. I love Bach, for example, but sometimes I feel it is too distant for me. But when I play music by composers like Jose Mora-Jimenez, it feels as if it was written for me.”

During his short career, he has worked with many of those composers, including Cardona, who composed, “Azulado,” the title work on Montero Moya’s first album. (He earned the chance to record the album by winning the national competition in Costa Rica, and commissioned the work from Cardona, his music theory teacher.)

His career highlight, he says, came in January 2022, when he recorded the world premiere of Cardona’s string quintet “Oché” with two-time Latin Grammy-winning quartet Cuartero Latinoamericano. “I can fairly say they’re one of the most important quartets in the world,” he says. “In my wildest dreams, I always wanted to listen to them live. I never imagined I would get to record with them.”

Before coming to URI, Montero Moya wasn’t sure he wanted to study in the U.S. But he quickly found a community – if not an apartment – when he came to Kingston. During his first weeks on campus, unable to find a place to rent, he stayed with a local family, Professor Emeritus Richard and Beth Casagrande, who helped him eventually find an apartment. They introduced him to South County and continue to invite him to their home for holidays, dinners and house concerts, he says. 

Levin has also been a tour guide, taking Montero Moya on a family trip to Washington, D.C., during Thanksgiving, Montero Moya’s first.

“I want Adrian to have the complete American experience,” says Levin. “My teachers across the years were more than classical guitar instructors; they were guides, mentors, and quasi-parents. I want Adrian to feel part of a community, a musical family, and most importantly learn new musical and cultural customs.”

Montero Moya has found a mentor in Levin. While Levin has pushed him as a musician, urging him to be more expressive, he has also given Montero Moya an idea of what he’d like his career to look like. “Adam is a huge inspiration,” he says. “He has two duos and a trio, he plays with orchestra, he plays solo, and he runs a guitar education non-profit organization, Kithara Project. I don’t know how he does it to be honest but he’s a huge inspiration. I want to develop that, but I also love teaching.”

During short breaks, he has continued to compete in guitar competitions this year, winning the Southwest Guitar Symposium in San Antonio, taking second at the Appalachian State Guitarfest in Boone, North Carolina, and advancing to the semifinals of the Columbus State University competition, one of the toughest in the U.S.

But for now, he’s preparing for the April 22 concert in the Fine Arts Center. Mora-Jimenez, who wrote the title piece for Montero Moya’s second album, “Sonatas and Partita,” has written a concerto for him influenced by Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez.”

“It has really beautiful harmonies and melodies,” he says. “Most of the music I play isn’t necessarily beautiful. It’s lively, rhythmic, even grotesque sometimes. But this new piece is gorgeous.”

Montero Moya’s performance with the URI Symphony Orchestra is Saturday, April 22, at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston. Tickets – $15 for general admission, $10 for students and seniors – can be purchased on the event website.