San Juan College classical music groups plan semester-ending concerts
Orchestra will perform April 29, while symphonic band takes stage May 6
FARMINGTON — As the director of instrumental music at San Juan College, Teun Fetz is responsible for choosing the material the school's two classical music ensembles — the San Juan College Orchestra and the San Juan College Symphonic Band — will play during their semester-ending concerts each fall and spring.
It's not a scientific or analytical process, he insists, explaining that he is more inclined to go with his gut feeling as he sifts through the possibilities.
"I choose music I like, music I would want to listen to as an audience member," he said. "I guess my philosophy is, 'Life's too short to listen to crappy music.'"
When the orchestra takes the stage this weekend for its semester-ending concert, it will present a program that Fetz said is perhaps the most ambitious collection of music it has attempted to perform since he joined the faculty in 2015.
But Fetz believes the time is right for his orchestra — which is made up of local professional and community players, in addition to students — to up its game.
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"For me, I'm always looking for challenges," he said. "I think these pieces are doable within the amount of time we have available."
The music is also very accessible, to performers and audience members alike, he said.
The concert will be highlighted by a solo performance on clarinet by Katie Fetz, Fetz's wife, who will perform the first movement of Aaron Copland's "The Concerto for Clarinet, Strings and Harp."
Teun Fetz described it as a very difficult piece to play in terms of register, but he said it is a gorgeous work by the artist he considers to be America's greatest composer.
While Katie Fetz has performed with the orchestra before as a member of the clarinet section, Teun Fetz said this will mark the first time she has been featured as a soloist. He said he has no doubt she's up to the task.
"She's an amazing musician and really fine clarinetist," he said. "And she's always wanted to do this piece."
Another highlight will be a performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," another gorgeous piece that Fetz described as one of the composer's better-known works. The degree of difficulty inherent in performing that work is typical of the material he has chosen for this program, he said.
"I really pushed them on music they've never done before," Fetz said of the students who help make up the 43-member orchestra. " … We're stepping out of the box and trying to expose them to a repertoire they should be familiar with."
Fetz acknowledged it has been tough for some of his students to rise to the challenge.
"Some of them aren't ready, but at the same time, they're pushing and really improving," he said, adding that the professional musicians in the group have responded by taking their less-experienced colleagues under their wing.
"Having these guys lead as mentors really helps," Fetz said. "That leadership is really understated, but it's important for young players to have somebody to rely on."
Fetz said it can be difficult for him to provide that kind of mentoring from behind the conductor's podium, so he really values the degree to which his professional musicians have worked to build a rapport with the students.
"It's a great vibe," he said. "The dynamic and the atmosphere is really positive. Everyone is very supportive of each other."
The San Juan College Symphonic Band will wrap up the music department's spring concert series next week with a performance of its own. Fetz said that program will feature eight tunes, nearly all of which he characterized as passionate, up tempo and energetic.
The list includes Robert Sheldon's "Celebration and Song," Henry Fillmore's "Circus Bee March," Randall Standridge's "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Todd Stalter's "Counterbalance" and Clifton Williams' "March from Symphonic Suite." A highlight of the concert will be a solo performance on alto saxophone by Farmington High School band director Alex Olivas on "Diversion" by Bernhard Heiden, a piece that Fetz said is filled with hills and valleys.
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"He sounds amazing," Fetz said of Olivas' performance on the piece. "He's an awesome player."
The concert also will feature a performance of "The Hounds of Spring, a Concert Overture for Winds" by Alfred Reed, which Fetz said is very apropos for this time of year. Fetz said the arrangement by Robert Longfield will put the full symphony to use.
"Every section gets featured, and it's a very celebratory piece," he said.
Fetz said the music department at the college has survived the COVID-19 pandemic in remarkably good shape, considering the kinds of restrictions that were placed on the ability of the musicians to work with each other over the last two years.
In fact, enrollment in two of the introductory online music classes he leads has never been higher, he said, and he hopes that is a sign that the department is poised to bounce back in a big way.
Fetz said his department has made progress in spite of the pandemic, something that he believes is evident to anyone who attends the department's semester-ending performances on a regular basis.
"(The makeup of the music groups) changes from semester to semester, but in the seven years I've been here, we've continued to grow for every semester and every concert series," he said. "The people I have spoken to have said every concert has been better and better and that the musicians are better and more inventive. … It's just great to have everybody back in the fold and to see everybody again."
The San Juan College Orchestra performs at 7 p.m. Friday, April 29, at the Henderson Performing Arts Center Performance Hall on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. The San Juan College Symphonic Band will be featured at 7 p.m. Friday, May 6 at the same location. Tickets for both concerts are $8 for adults, and $6 for students and seniors. They can be purchased online at sanjuancollege.edu/events or in person at the college bookstore or at the box office.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.