Hispanic Heritage Month: 5 facts you didn’t know about the Houston Symphony’s principal timpanist, Leonardo Soto

HOUSTON – His dream was to be a part of a top orchestra not only recognized in the U.S., but also around the world.

That dream came true for the talented, Leonardo Soto.

He went through 33 different auditions around the world before getting into the Houston Symphony, and we are so lucky to have him in Houston!

Leo is the first native Hispanic timpanist to play in a major orchestra in the U.S., thanks to his persistence, talent and support from those who have believed in him.

He was appointed as the Houston Symphony’s Principal Timpanist in 2018. He is originally from Santiago, Chile, his father is a self-taught drummer and his mother is an actress.

He won his first job right out of college with the Detroit Opera Orchestra and his second job 6 years later with the Charlotte Symphony. His first experience with the Houston Symphony was the European tour where the orchestra got standing ovations in places such as Vienna and Berlin.

At age 21, he was granted an international scholarship to study at Carnegie Mellon University. He was supposed to be there for 2 years on a special program and then he would go back to Chile, but his teacher made a petition for a full scholarship so he could do his masters to which the school accepted. He remembers asking his teacher if he thought he had a chance to make a career in the U.S., knowing the high stakes, (21 years old is a bit too late to start getting into the audition circle), his teacher said that if he worked harder than the rest he had an absolute chance, and that’s exactly what he did!


  1. IF LEO WASN’T A MUSICIAN… Leo loves to act and he used to do it quite a bit before he left Chile, so that’s a possible route he might have taken.
  2. LEA HAS A PASSION FOR… Leo has played soccer all his life. When watching his favorite team, especially if is the Chilean national team, he is a completely different person, (if you are seated next to him be aware he might lose his cool).
  3. WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM A BOOK… Leo read a book called “The Inner Game of Music” which is basically based on a book called “The Inner Game of Tennis” and since then he fell in love with the game of tennis. He taught himself to play and it has become a part of his life. It feeds his competitive personality.
  4. DURING COLLEGE LEO HAD ALL KINDS OF JOBS… Anywhere from construction to working at an Italian restaurant, (which by accident he ended up being chef for a short period), but by far his favorite was playing Salsa every week, sometimes 4 nights a week. Pittsburgh had a lot of live music and he joined 3 different Salsa bands... it was a blast!
  5. HE DEVELOPED A LOVE FOR LEARNING NEW LANGUAGES… Leo is now proficient in Portuguese and Italian, hopefully French will be next, in addition to knowing English and Spanish. When he came to the U.S., he didn’t know a word of English. Even though he came on a music scholarship, English was not required. After a year he was offered a full scholarship to do his Master Degree, so he had to hurry and learn as quickly as he could.

To learn more about the Houston Symphony, click HERE.

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