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San Juan Symphony concludes challenging season with 'Sweet Simplicity'


Work of four composers will be showcased in concert

FARMINGTON — With the San Juan Symphony streaming its season-ending concert "Sweet Simplicity" this weekend, musical director Thomas Heuser was asked to compare the challenges his organization his faced over the last year to others he has encountered over the course of his career.

"I don't think there's anything to compare it to," he said. "There were so many moving parts. … It was so unpredictable. … It was very, very challenging. I'm very glad it's over, and I'm looking forward to having it over and catching my breath."

As a performing arts organization, the San Juan Symphony was deeply impacted by the restrictions that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. But Heuser and symphony general manager Kathy Myrick nevertheless figured out a way to present a full season, even if they couldn't do it before a live audience or employ their usual full complement of musicians.

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"We're really happy to be at this place," Heuser said, referring to the fact that the symphony was able to deliver all four of the concerts it planned this season — and that it will emerge from this campaign without having incurred any debt, unlike so many other performing arts groups that have been effectively sidelined since March 2020.

The symphony did so by recording its concerts with a smaller-than-normal group of musicians and streaming the performances on its website so audience members could enjoy them from the safety of their homes. It also marketed those performances aggressively, easily exceeding its goal for signing up subscribers.

"It took a lot of vision and a lot of planning and flexibility," he said. "And because we built that flexibility into the plan, I knew we were going get past that finish line."

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The symphony's season finale was taped outdoors April 18 at the Reising Stage Event Center in Durango and features 15 string players and harp soloist Anne Eisfeller. The program features the music of four composers — William Grant, Claude DeBussy, Stacy Garrop and Benjamin Britten.

Heuser described the music he selected as very approachable for both new and experienced listeners of classical music. He said Grant's "Mother and Child" is a very sweet piece of music, while DeBussy's "Sacred and Profane Dances" will showcase Eisfeller on the harp and is an especially lush selection.

"I've always loved his music," Heuser said of DeBussy.

Garrop's "Lo Yisa Goy" is based on the Jewish Prayer for Peace.

"With things exploding in Israel this week, it's kind of poignant," Heuser said. "It ends with a kind of peacefulness its text implies."

The concert will conclude with Britten's "Simple Symphony," the work that inspired the concert's title. It features several movements, each of which contrast with the others, Heuser noted.

"It's very energetic, and it's always a challenge to play," he said.

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"Sweet Simplicity" will be streamed for subscribers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 15 at sanjuansymphony.org/live. It will remain available for on-demand viewing for several weeks on the website.

Heuser said planning already is underway for the symphony's next season, due to begin in September. But he acknowledged he and Myrick will have to wait to see what restrictions are still in place by then before they announce their final plans.

"We're planning for another full season next year," he said. "The plan is to be doing limited in-person concerts for live audiences and continue to stream the performances. So it will be a hybrid."

The symphony likely will announce its plans for the new season one concert at a time, on a quarterly basis, rather than all at once, Heuser said, noting the likelihood that conditions will change over the course of the year to come.

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