Giancarlo Guerrero was born in Managua, Nicaragua, on March 14, 1969. Raised in Costa Rica, he played in the Costa Rica Youth Symphony and in his teens became a percussionist with the Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra. Guerrero earned a bachelor's degree at Baylor University in percussion, though he also studied conducting there with Michael Haithcock and Stephen Heyde. Guerrero then studied conducting at Northwestern University, where he was awarded a master's degree. His teachers there included Victor Yampolsky.
By the 1990s Guerrero was active as a conductor and his first professional post was as music director of the San Cristobal, Venezuela-based Tachira Symphony Orchestra. From 1999-2004 he was associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. His debut subscription concert there in March 2000 made a splash with the world premiere of Corigliano's Phantasmagoria on themes from the Ghosts of Versailles.
From 2002-2008 Guerrero served as music director of the Oregon-based Eugene Symphony Orchestra. In 2004 he was given the Helen M. Thompson Award by the American Symphony Orchestra League, an honor presented to outstanding young conductors. 2005 saw two important debuts for Guerrero: at the Casals Festival with Yo-Yo Ma and the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, and at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires with the Filarmónica de Buenos Aires.
Guerrero had return engagements at the Casals Festival in 2006 (in Verdi's Requiem) and 2007. In 2008 he garnered much acclaim for his presentation of Golijov's opera Ainadamar at the Adelaide Festival, which was an Australian premiere. In the 2008-2009 season Guerrero served as music director designate of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. After assuming music directorship in 2009 Guerrero scored numerous successes in the post, most conspicuously for his 2009 Naxos disc of Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony, which won three Grammy awards in 2011: Best Orchestra Performance, Best Classical Composition, and Best Engineered Classical Album. From 2011 Guerrero has served as guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra at its Miami residency. In 2012 Guerrero won a second Grammy, for Best Classical Instrumental Solo, for his Naxos disc of Schwantner's Concerto for percussion.