“Growing up, I was always playing guitar or singing,” says Giselle Elgarresta Rios, B.M. ’88, M.M. ’90, D.M.A. ’95, assistant professor of voice and choral music at Barry University in Miami Shores. Born in Atlanta and raised in South Florida, Rios says, “I’m told that I used to sing myself to sleep when I was a little girl. My grandfather was a big listener of classical music. He had a big record collection of all styles of music.”

In February, Rios conducted a 150-voice chorus, including 40 singers from Barry, at New York’s Carnegie Hall, becoming the first Cuban-American woman to conduct in the storied venue.

“I was very prepared,” she says of the performance of Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez’s “Misa Criolla,” Mozart’s “Regina Coeli,” and a series of James Joyce poems set to Fred Coulter’s “Chamber Music.” “I was not nervous. I was on task, and I was extremely excited about the music I had chosen. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect performance.”

Carnegie Hall is not the first revered performance space to host Rios. In 2004 she conducted at the Notre Dame Cathedral and at Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris. She recalls the Notre Dame performance as “sacred,” adding, “It was very emotional for all of us. They put us on the altar. It was a mystical experience.”

Rios introduces her students to all forms of music. “As a conductor, I try to vary the repertoire.” Her many influences include American pianist and composer Ned Rorem, whom Rios studied for her doctoral dissertation; contemporary conductors such as Michael Tilson Thomas; and composers such as Brahms, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Puccini. “Each style has something to contribute, and I find the beauty in each one.”

Rios has two daughters and a son with her husband, Jose Rios, M.D. ’87, an internist with South Florida Cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. “I almost went into accounting,” she says of her brief consideration of a non-musical career. “That would have been the death of my spirit, but I was very good in math!”

— Leonard Nash