Almost 400 people packed into the brand-new Ralph E. Vavak auditorium at Montezuma-Cortez High School to see the San Juan Symphony Orchestra and its special guests, guest conductor Blake Richardson and cello soloist Inbal Segev.
The crowd was large, diverse, and overall, enthralled by the performance of Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture,” Brahm’s Second Symphony and Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, led by Segev.
“We think it was about 380 in the audience, and out of those there were about 50 kids. We had a whole lot of kids between 4 and 14, and several of the musicians even commented that they didn’t even realize kids were in the audience, they were so good,” said Joyce Stevenson, Southwest Colorado Concerts director. “We had a lot of people that, as they were coming out, said things like ‘I had tears in my eyes.’”
“It was a great performance.”
The Sunday afternoon performance helped kick-start the 30th season for Durango-based San Juan Symphony, which is in the midst of choosing a new music director. The symphony also had a performance Oct. 3 in Durango.
Arthur Post, who held the position of San Juan Symphony’s music director for 13 years, left the orchestra at the close of the last season.
Since then, the San Juan Symphony has been narrowing down finalists to three who will be directing the music and conducting one concert apiece this season.
Richardson, who led the orchestra during Sunday’s Cortez performance, is director of orchestral studies at the University of Alabama and music director of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra. Richardson is also a Fulbright Scholar who received his doctorate degree in musical arts in orchestral conducting from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in August 2012, and joined the conducting staff of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in 2014.
Cortez-based musician and former oboist with the Utah Symphony Roger Watson said he has seen the San Juan Symphony a few times, but the performance at the newly opened Vavak Auditorium was a standout for him, because of the sparkling new venue and the deft leadership of Richardson.
“As we know, the hall is just remarkable, I think it contributed to a really warm sound and was true to the colors of the orchestra,” said Watson. Richardson’s skill was particularly noticeable, Watson said, during Segev’s solo.
“During the solo, he kept the orchestra down so well, that you could hear everything she was trying to convey without the orchestra overshadowing her. I also enjoyed his anecdotes and introductions before the pieces. A lot of times, conductors never speak, but he was very approachable and kept people interested,” said Watson.
The highlights musically were Brahm’s Second Symphony, and a special treat for Cortez audience members – an encore by cello soloist Segev.
“I think you could really tell that the musicians enjoyed performing for our audience. The encore was something the cello soloist did not do in Durango. I thought that was a really great tribute to our audience,” said Stevenson.
Current position: Director of orchestral studies at the University of Alabama and music director of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Education: Doctor of Musical Arts in orchestral conducting from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (2012)
Principal instrument training: Violin, piano and percussion
Previous positions: Principal conductor of the Wildwood Academy of Music and the Arts, and as assistant conductor to Valery Gergiev for the inaugural tour of Carnegie Hall’s NYO-USA. Assistant conductor with the Barcelona Symphony, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He has conducted the Danish National Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Brandenburger Symphoniker and Cincinnati’s chamber orchestra, concert:nova.
Scholarships and awards: Fulbright, Vienna Philharmonic, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Chautauqua Institution; and the National Opera Association.