San Juan Symphony returns to action with concert of works by Romantic era composers

'Romantic Atmospheres' is orchestra's second concert of 36th season

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The symphony will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14 at the Henderson Performing Arts Center on the San Juan College campus.
  • To purchase tickets online, visit
  • Digital subscriptions for recorded performances also are available via the website.

FARMINGTON — When the San Juan Symphony took the stage in Farmington and Durango, Colorado, last month to perform the opening concerts for its 36th season, conductor Thomas Heuser said there was a sense of excitement that exceeded even the normal atmosphere for the beginning of a new campaign.

"It was a delight to have an audience before us again," Hesuer said, describing what it was like to have his group moving back into a live performance setting again for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

Heuser said there was no question the presence of live audience members gave his musicians a boost, though they had done their best while performing recorded concerts that were offered to the organization's patrons in the digital realm during the symphony's 35th season.

"It was like a family reunion for both the orchestra and the audience," he said.

That sense of joy is something many people in the Four Corners haven't experienced much over the last year and a half, Heuser said. He encouraged those who are still looking for that kind of connection to come out this weekend, when the symphony continues its season with another concert in Farmington.

"I think we can provide a sense of optimism and amazement during a time when a lot of people don't have a lot of connection with the arts right now," he said.

The San Juan Symphony performs its season-opening concert in October in Durango, Colo. The orchestra returns to action with a Nov. 14 concert in Farmington.

The second concert of the season, "Romantic Atmospheres," features the work of three composers from the Romantic period, with each of the pieces having been chosen by Heuser for their personal, emotional nature. He said the concert will offer listeners the chance to "meditate over music," especially those looking to escape the sense of sadness and grief that has gripped San Juan County as the pandemic continues to reach new heights of severity.

The symphony will open with Overture No. 1 in E Minor by Louise Farrenc, a 19th century French composer whose work Heuser said has never received the attention it deserves. He described the piece as an energetic, upbeat opera overture, one featuring a distinctive, agitated rhythm. This will mark the first time the symphony has performed a piece by Ferrenc, Hesuer said.

"In the Steppes of Central Asia" by Alexander Borodin will follow. Heuser described the piece as a "tone poem," a narrative piece of music that depicts the journey of migrant wanderers across the wide-open spaces of the Russian steppes. Heuser said Borodin's composition paints a "vivid picture of this particular scene."

The finale, Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, is more commonly known as the composer's "Unfinished Symphony" because it consists of only two movements instead of the customary four.

Conductor Thomas Heuser, center, leads the San Juan Symphony during its season-opening performance last month in Durango, Colo.

"It's shrouded in all kinds of mystical questions and interpretations, and it has a fascinating history," Heuser said.

Despite its abbreviated nature, Heuser said the composition's mood shifts from intense to subdued.

"It's one of the most emotionally impactful pieces we'll play all season," he said.

The entire concert should last only about an hour, Heuser said, explaining that symphony officials are trying to limit the amount of time performers and audience members are exposed to each other in the indoor setting out of safety concerns.

"I know it's still up to every individual and their comfort level, but I think those looking for an experience of reconnecting with a public event, this concert is a real safe option," he said.

Heuser noted that this concert will feature the return of a three-member trombone section to the orchestra, an element the symphony did not have during its opening concerts in September.

"It'll be our first time performing with trombones in 22 months," he said.

The plan is to slowly increase the number of musicians who appear on stage for each concert, Heuser said, until the orchestra is back to its full complement. He acknowledged that process already has taken longer than he anticipated, but he said he believes the symphony will get there soon.

"My optimism for getting a larger group onstage has been tamped down by the COVID situation," he said. "But by April, I think we'll see the full orchestra."

The symphony will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14 at the Henderson Performing Arts Center on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. To purchase tickets online, visit Digital subscriptions for recorded performances also are available via the website.

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