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Orchestra will perform this weekend at San Juan College

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FARMINGTON — Now entering his fourth season, Thomas Heuser has shed his newcomer status and settled in firmly as the music director of the San Juan Symphony.

His standing was solidified when he signed a new five-year contract to lead the orchestra last season. That has allowed both parties to take a long-term view of the symphony's prospects as Heuser prepares for its season-opening concerts this weekend in Durango, Colorado, and Farmington.

"It's a great opportunity for the organization to have that kind of stability and for me, too," Heuser said Sept. 25 during a telephone interview from Durango. "We can really look at the future and make some decisions about how to move forward."

The symphony will be launching its 34th season, which is characterized by the theme "Elegance & Intensity." Each of the four programs will feature music that reflects those words, Heuser said, with the symphony sometimes taking listeners on markedly different emotional journeys during the same concert. It's an ambitious approach, but Heuser has worked hard to push the orchestra's boundaries since taking over in 2016.

"We have been able to offer work on a very large scale that is normally not possible in an orchestra of this size," he said.

The season opener will feature the work of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Prokofiev, with the first two composers representing the traditionalist vein and the latter taking a more lighthearted approach. Heuser said the three pieces will make very technical demands on his players, so it is a challenging program, but it also showcases the emotional contrasts that will be the hallmark of the entire season.

The season continues in November with performances by guest artist and pianist Inna Faliks, a professor of the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. Heuser said he and Faliks have worked together before, and he is looking forward to resuming their collaboration on pieces by Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

In February, the orchestra will open its year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven with a program devoted his work. Heuser said the symphony has commissioned the creation of a piece by David Biedenbender designed to serve as an homage to the legendary German composer. Biedenbender will be serving a residency with the orchestra and will help perform the world premiere of his piece during the concerts.

The season concludes in April with performances with guest artist and Grammy-winning violinist Karen Kim. That program features pieces by Beethoven and Shastakovich.

Heuser said he feels comfortable asking more of his players this season because he believes the adjustment period is over. He said the orchestra's quality has improved over his first three seasons as his musicians have grown accustomed to his style and expectations.

"It's encouraging," he said of his approach to leading the symphony. "I try to be an energetic leader. … It's a lot like being a soccer coach. I make sure everybody is confident in the product and, at the same time, have some fun with it so it is somewhat lighthearted and enjoyable for the players."

One of Heuser's main responsibilities upon taking the reins of the orchestra in 2016 was increasing its audience in Farmington, where it performs half its concerts. He said he is pleased with the progress that has been made on that front.

"So far, so good," he said. "We've seen an uptick in season ticket purchases, which is really encouraging."

Heuser credited that increase to word-of-mouth promotion from symphony musicians and board members who live in the Farmington area. He also said he has tried to actively engage potential classical music fans here by making regular appearances before such local groups as the Rotary Club and the Redcoats.

Additionally, Chris Argotsinger, who performs with the orchestra and serves as the band leader at Farmington High School, leads a class through the San Juan College Encore program designed to promote an appreciation of classical music. Argotsinger's efforts have borne fruit, Heuser noted, explaining that enrollment in the program started at a half dozen people and has since swelled to more than 20.

Heuser also is excited by the recent hiring of Sayra Silverson as the symphony's youth orchestra director. That group will perform with the symphony twice this year during side-by-side concerts, and Heuser said Silverson's years of experience serving in a similar role in Albuquerque will prove valuable.

The symphony will perform locally at 3 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets range from $8 to $55. Visit sanjuansymphony.org or call 505-566-3430.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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