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San Juan Symphony marks Beethoven's birthday with new videos

Organization's website features growing library of content

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
The Petroglyph String Quartet, made up of members of the San Juan Symphony, is featured in a new video on the organization's website.
  • The material is highlighted by full concerts by large numbers of symphony musicians.
  • It also includes a growing number of short videos by smaller groups of players performing single pieces.
  • Visit sanjuansymphony.org to subscribe.

FARMINGTON — Like most other performing arts organizations around the country, the San Juan Symphony has struggled to find a way to provide programming to its audience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the longer the virus lingers, the more creative the symphony has become, it seems.

Unable to perform concerts before a live audience this year, the symphony has instead been posting recorded video content on its website for subscribers. That material is highlighted by full concerts by large numbers of symphony musicians, but it also includes a growing number of short videos by smaller groups of players performing single pieces.

That library of material now numbers a dozen or so selections, including two new videos this week that mark the recent birthday of legendary German composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

The symphony celebrated Beethoven's Dec. 16 birthday by posting a new video recording of Beethoven's String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4, the first and second movements, by the Petroglyph String Quartet from New Mexico, which is made up of symphony musicians Yakima Fernandez, Karl Winkler, Justin Pollak and Stasie Nellos.

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The second video showcases the symphony's trio of principal woodwinds — Rebecca Ray on oboe, Lori Lovato on clarinet and Denise Turner on bassoon — performing Mozart's Deivertimento No. 1 in Bb Major and Beethoven's Variations on the Theme "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

Symphony director Thomas Heuser said he was very pleased with the new content, explaining that it makes a nice addition to the material that already existed on the symphony website. He said the symphony has attracted 325 subscribers to the site, far exceeding its goal of 100, and the reaction of viewers has been gratifying.

"We're seeing a lot of nice reviews being posted to the videos, so we're getting a very positive response," he said.

The San Juan Symphony's trio of principal woodwinds is showcased in a new video that has been posted on the organization's website.

Because of social distancing requirements and other COVID-19 safe practices, the symphony's concerts during the fall did not include the organization's full complement of musicians. Heuser said that fact was regrettable but unavoidable.

But the shorter videos of individual pieces have allowed smaller groups of symphony musicians who have been left out of those concerts to still have a performance outlet this season, he noted.

"That was our thinking from the outset — what can we do to engage the entire body of musicians who call the San Juan Symphony home?" he said.

More:San Juan Symphony continues season next week with string program

Heuser explained that while other symphonies around the country have put together virtual seasons that try to make a splash by bringing in big-name guest artists, he believes the San Juan Symphony has made a wise choice by opting to showcase the talents of its regular players in untraditional settings.

That approach helps keep those musicians busy and provides them with some compensation at a time when the members of other symphonies around the country have been idled, he said.

It also helps trigger their creative instincts, he noted. Symphony members are being encouraged to approach Heuser with ideas for groupings of musicians, settings and material, with Heuser retaining the right to approve those ideas. So far, he said, he has given the green light to all but two such proposals, and he said he has been very pleased with the quality of the ideas that have come his way.

More:San Juan Symphony plans full season despite COVID-19 pandemic

"The programming of it is very opened ended," he said. " … We're trying to fund as many of them as we can."

The musicians are expected to meet or exceed certain minimum standards for audio and video quality. Other than that, he said, they largely are encouraged to use their imagination when it comes to proposing the content.

"I'm pleasantly surprised at what folks have been able to produce on their own," Heuser said, adding that his musicians have adapted well to educating themselves about the technical requirements the situation requires.

The website programming is intended to be affordable, with subscriptions going for $25 a week or $99 for the full season. Heuser said the content remains available for viewing for as long as the symphony's licensing of copyrighted material remains in effect, meaning some pieces can be watched for only a few months, while others – especially those in the public domain – can be seen all season.

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As the symphony's season continues, more content will be added, he said. Plans call for pieces by a side-by-side string quartet featuring adult performers and members of the symphony's youth program to be produced soon.

Visit sanjuansymphony.org to subscribe.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.