Symphony will perform Brahms German Requiem

Mike Easterling,

FARMINGTON — Thomas Heuser says he has settled in nicely as the new music director of the San Juan Symphony. But he won’t be leaving himself much room for error this weekend when the orchestra performs Brahms German Requiem in a pair of concerts that will feature more than 150 performers.

Musical director Thomas Heuser will lead the San Juan Symphony in a pair of performances of the Brahms German Requiem this weekend.

The symphony will be joined by soloists Seth Keeton and Gemma Kavanaugh, as well as Farmington’s Caliente Community Chorus and the Durango Choral Society.

“We’ll have a huge chorus and the full orchestra, along with our soloists,” Heuser said about this weekend’s program, which will be only his second concert with the symphony since he assumed his new job. “It has many moving parts, and the complexity there is having everyone focusing at the same time and coming together at certain parts of the performance.”

If Heuser is apprehensive about that challenge, he gives no indication of it. He excitedly described the requiem — one of Brahms’ earlier works, written on the occasion of the death of his mother — as one of the famed composer’s more lovely and yet introspective pieces.

Gemma Kavanaugh

“He wrote it for all mankind,” Heuser said. “It’s for all of us who mourn the dead and deal with concepts of our own mortality. But it’s hopeful and uplifting, and I think the audience will get that.”

As for the soloists, Kavanaugh, a soprano, is a longtime favorite of San Juan Symphony fans. She has lived in Durango since 1999 and performed with the orchestra many times, as well as at the Music in the Mountains series, with the Durango Women’s Choir and 3rd Avenue Arts.

“This is my first opportunity to work with her,” Heuser said. “She has a voice that has a radiance and depth to it that is perfectly suited (for the material).”

Seth Keeton

Keeton, a baritone who is a voice professor at the University of Utah, has a much longer acquaintance with Keeton, as both are graduates of Indiana University, and they have worked together in the past. But this will be his first time performing with the San Juan Symphony.

Heuser made his debut as the orchestra’s music director only last month, but he’s pleased with the way his tenure has unfolded thus far. He looks forward to the addition of the two choruses to the symphony’s second program of the season as a further demonstration of how his organization is committed to representing and serving both cities.

“We’re on a great trajectory,” he said. “The energy is great, the momentum is great, and both communities — Farmington and Durango — responded extremely well to the (first) program,” he said.

Virginia Nickels-Hircock, the director of the Caliente Community Chorus, said she got a call from Linda Mack Berven, her counterpart with the Durango Choral Society, last spring, inquiring about the possibility of the two choruses performing during the Brahms program.

“I couldn’t say no,” Nickels-Hircock said, recalling her reservations about the technical difficulty of the requiem. “I really should have said no, but I didn’t.”

After thinking about it and listening to the score with fresh ears, she said it was apparent that a pared-down version of her chorus would be the best way to proceed, so Nickels-Hircock has put together a group of 16 singers — four to a part — for this weekend’s performance.

Nickels-Hircock is filling one of those singing roles herself.

“My favorite part of this project is to have been a participant and not a director,” she said. “It’s different, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to go back and sing. It’s a nice reminder of the challenges of being part of a chorus.”

Caliente has done other projects with the symphony in the past, and Nickels-Hircock said it’s always refreshing to join forces with another organization.

“It’s fabulous, and I love the opportunity to work with other musicians in the region, not just in the community,” she said.

Heuser will deliver a gallery talk as part of the “Musically Speaking” series before the Farmington concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Henderson Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Performance of the Brahms German Requiem by the San Juan Symphony

When and where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Community Concert Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus, 1000 Rim Drive in Durango, Colo.; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 in the Henderson Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

Tickets: For the Durango performance, visit, call 970-247-7657 or visit the Welcome Center at Eighth Street and Main Avenue downtown. For the Farmington performance, call 505-566-3430.

For more information: Visit