What a special gift we have in our semi-remote mountain town to share the San Juan Symphony with our neighbors to the south in Farmington, New Mexico. The caliber of musicianship is outstanding, and the selection of innovative programs is rewarding and fresh.
This unique combination began in the early 1970’s, when musicians in the two cities performed as separate orchestras. In 1985, the two groups combined as the San Juan Symphony and today, it serves as the finest regional professional orchestra in the Four Corners area.
The Symphony performs concerts at Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico and at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College in Durango, seating 750 and 650 respectively. They have also performed at the Bayfield Performing Arts Center, Michael D. Palm Theatre in Telluride, and Montezuma-Cortez High School in Cortez.
Dr. Thomas Heuser was appointed the fifth music director of the San Juan Symphony in 2016 and he also serves as music director for the Idaho Falls Symphony where he has been for 12 seasons. Ever youthful and with boundless energy, Dr. Heuser has led the San Juan Symphony to tremendous growth and popularity.
The son of two molecular biologists, Heuser originally hails from St. Louis and started playing violin at an early age then switched to the piano as his primary instrument. After discovering his love for conducting, he has studied internationally and directed multiple orchestras across the U.S.
You may ask yourself, how is classical music still relevant? Every sound in a piece of classical music has a context and a purpose, and those sounds can move and transmit emotions. The swirling rise of a string section can take your breath away and the thunderous rumbling of a timpani drum can set your heart racing. It is important that we play, share, appreciate and learn from this gem of history for future generations.
The San Juan Symphony Youth Orchestra is an active part of the orchestra’s mission and includes educational programs which provide intermediate to advanced orchestral training and an invaluable full orchestra experience for young musicians in the Four Corners. It remains a credited ensemble opportunity for Fort Lewis College students, and the Junior Orchestra now offers a satellite group in Farmington. Masterclasses, family concerts, side-by-side concerts, and lectures by the music director are all part of the symphony’s extensive educational programming.
A few days before each performance, Dr. Heuser hosts a “Musically Speaking” event at Durango’s Powerhouse Science Center to discuss the upcoming program. Heuser loves music history and enjoys giving context to what was happening in the world when the piece was composed.
The performance I enjoyed in February featured works by Beethoven in “Visionary Beethoven”. The audience was mainly older, but the concert hall was full. As I listened to the beautiful cacophony that occurs when a large group of classical musicians warm up together, I could hear a taste of what was to come.
With metronomic precision that can only come from knowing the music so intimately, Maestro Heuser coaxed and guided the musicians through the labyrinth of notes and in return, the players gave their rapt attention to him.
As conductor, he was in complete control as he led them with great vigor through the dynamics of soft to loud with multiple crescendos. As the last notes hung in space, the group was thanked with prolonged applause.
During the performance, I was struck by how physically demanding the act of conducting really is. I was told that the players work on their parts individually for some time before the orchestra meets as a group for only two rehearsals before a performance.
2023 has been a big year for the San Juan Symphony; besides instituting a new visual identity, they absorbed 3rd Avenue Arts in July and will now bring even more classical music programming to Durango including the Bach Festival, Chamber Music Festival, and the Chamber Singers in a series called “Beyond the Concert Hall”.
Examples of the Symphony’s diverse programming this year include collaborating with the Santa Fe-based Latin band “Nosotros” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Fort Lewis College’s Community Concert Hall, performing film music in short evening family concerts, and playing in the True Western Roundup in the arena with trick riders of the Riata Ranch in Three Rivers, California.
The 38th season, titled “New Horizons” will feature performances by renowned pianist Kara Huber, Young Americans: Emerging Composers with The Chamber Singers, Maurice Ravel’s choreographic poem “La Valse”, The Nutcracker performed with the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara, as well as concerts by the San Juan Symphony Youth Orchestras and the San Juan Symphony String Quartet.
As demand continues to intensify, with audiences vying to save their seats for increasingly sold-out events, it’s a good idea to reserve your tickets early. Bravo!