San Juan Symphony returns to stage to open 36th season this weekend

Organization chooses 'The Sound of Resilience' as theme for 36th season

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Led by conductor Thomas Heuser, center, the San Juan Symphony returns to action this weekend with concerts in Farmington and Durango, Colo.
  • The San Juan Symphony performs at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus.
  • Tickets range from $8 to $90.
  • Visit or call 505-326-3311.

FARMINGTON — When the San Juan Symphony takes the stage before a live audience this weekend for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it might take a little time before it falls into a groove, the group's conductor says.

"Oh, I'm sure there will be some cobwebs to dust off — and how appropriate for Halloween," Thomas Heuser said, looking forward to the symphony's season-opening concerts. "But all our musicians have remained very busy with (performing at) weddings or teaching. … But we've put a lot of work into getting the orchestra prepared, and we're all ready and excited to be back."

Entering its 36th season, the orchestra has settled on a theme of "The Sound of Resilience." Heuser said that theme reflects the organization's sense of relief at having survived the pandemic and the uplifting, energetic feeling the musicians have about performing in front of people again.

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"All those things are being reflected in the excitement of this moment," he said.

Unlike many other performing arts groups, the San Juan Symphony did manage to put together a season last year. But it was restricted to recorded performances by a pared-down orchestra that were presented to audiences in a digital format. Heuser said that arrangement worked out better than expected, but he knows nothing can replace the atmosphere of a live concert.

Thomas Heuser

"On that very first night, when you hear those very first bars, it's going to be so gratifying," he said.

The program for the season opener, "Two First Symphonies," features music by Beethoven, Edward Elgar and Adolphus Hailstork. Heuser said Beethoven's First Symphony will be very well known to audiences, as will Elgar's "Love's Greeting." He described the latter as "ear candy," a piece the symphony will perform as a thank you to the audience for sticking with the organization through a difficult period.

He said listeners likely will be less familiar with Hailstork's work.

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"He's not a household name, but he should be," Heuser said. "His music is so excellent."

Hailstork, a Virginia resident, is an African-American composer and educator, and Heuser said his inclusion in the program represents an attempt by the San Juan Symphony to diversify its material.

Heuser said symphony officials decided not to feature a guest soloist for the opener for a couple of reasons. The first, he said, was for practical purposes — to avoid having a musician from another community travel to the Four Corners, potentially exposing the guest artist and/or the members of the San Juan Symphony to the risk of illness.

The second reason is more straightforward.

"The idea is to highlight the orchestra itself," he said. "We wanted to remind people what that sounds like. That puts the focus on the musicians of the San Juan Symphony."

While this weekend's concerts will feature a full orchestra, meaning they will feature strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, Heuser said all of the organization's musicians will not take part.

"We’re starting relatively small and growing," he said. "It will be a smallish orchestra and getting bigger by spring."

"The Sound of Resilience" is the theme for the San Juan Symphony's 36th season opening this weekend.

That is a reflection of the continued threat of the pandemic and the steps the symphony is taking to keep everyone safe. Heuser said he and the strings players will wear masks throughout the performance, while the woodwind and brass players will remove their masks while they are seated and playing.

Patrons at the concerts will be required to wear a mask at all times, regardless of vaccination status, and the audiences at the orchestra's Farmington performances will be socially distanced from other parties.

Any classical music enthusiast who still is not comfortable attending a performance in person will have the virtual option available again this season, Heuser said. The orchestra's Durango, Colorado, concerts will be streamed live via the organization's website to subscribers and will remain available for two weeks afterward.

But Heuser said he hopes everyone who is eager to hear the orchestra perform again will feel safe — and healthy — enough to do so in person. The excitement of being back in front of a live audience was evident in his voice as he discussed how much he is anticipating this weekend.

"Just the sonic brilliance of a full orchestra is something we've all forgotten about," he said. "I think there will be an overwhelming response of the audience this weekend."

The San Juan Symphony performs at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets range from $8 to $90. The orchestra also will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Community Concert Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus in Durango, Colorado. Visit or call 505-326-3311.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.