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More than music education

The San Juan Symphony Youth Orchestra performs and Sayra Siverson conducts. (Courtesy of San Juan Symphony)
Young musicians perform rousing, varied program Saturday

The music of Beethoven, Rossini, Sibelius and other great composers will fill the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College on Saturday. In a spirited program that’s been in rehearsal for 13 weeks, the San Juan Symphony Youth and Junior Orchestras will come to fruition. But there is more at stake than an ambitious list of overtures, dances or a magnificent tone poem: When young musicians play great music and coalesce into an orchestra, something more is in the air.


“Our rehearsals,” Director Sayra Siverson said, develop a long list of skills beyond learning the music: “critical thinking, creative problem-solving and teamwork skills. We learn about self-discipline, concentration, time-management and responsibility.”

The Youth and Junior Orchestras draw talented string, brass, percussion, and woodwind players from all over the Four Corners. The endeavor has been around for over a decade and survived the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in the Southwest, student musicians have the rare chance to supplement individual lessons and school orchestra programs by auditioning for and adding a full-orchestra experience. Twice a year, the SJS student orchestras perform in a formal setting in an acoustically sophisticated hall. That alone is an experience to remember.


The advanced Youth Orchestra is made up of students from grades eight through college. They receive additional coaching from San Juan Symphony musicians and Thomas Heuser, music director. Conductor Moly Jensen introduces the youngest musicians, grades five to nine, to the orchestral experience. New this year is the addition of a Farmington section to the longer-standing Durango section. All fall, the two have been rehearsing the same music separately and will come together for dress rehearsals and final performance this weekend.

If you go

WHAT: San Juan Symphony Youth Orchestra Fall Concert, featuring the Junior Orchestras of Farmington and Durango, Directors Sayra Silverson and Molly Jensen.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $5 students, $24 adults. Available online at www.durangoconcerts.com, by phone at 247-7657 and at the door.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 382-9753 or visit www.sanjuansymphony.org.

Jensen and the Junior Orchestra will open the program with Gioachino Rossini’s rollicking overture to “The Barber of Seville.” The young musicians will then perform G.P. Telemann’s “Sinfonia,” and conclude with another rouser – Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Dance of the Tumblers.”

Siverson will conduct the Youth Orchestra in three works of very different colors: Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” Karl Butz’s “Wondrous,” and the magnificent “Finlandia,” by Jean Sibelius. It is Finland’s unofficial national anthem, familiar to many for its solemn, stirring melody and call to courage.

“I programed the ‘Egmont Overture’ to educate, inspire and engage my musicians,” Siverson said. “Beethoven was much different than other great musicians of his time, such as Haydn and Mozart, as he wrote music aimed at capturing the listener from the start. He did not aim to please the listener, rather, strived to stir up emotions in them. So, we have been working on clearly expressing contrasting dynamics and phrasing throughout to aid in an emotionally exciting performance.”

The newest piece on the program is “Wondrous,” by American composer Butz, Siverson said.

“He is a Houston-based violinist, composer and string pedagogy author. He wrote ‘Wonderous’ in 2014 for a performance at the Midwest Music Educators Clinic,” she said. “The work captures the grandeur of a concert in a magnificent concert hall, as well as the vibrant character of the youth performing it. Listeners will gain a sense of inspiration, delight, excellence and beauty listening to it.”

The Fall Concert will conclude with “Finlandia,” Siverson said. “It’s the best-known of Sibelius’ works.” It was composed in 1899, as a protest against increasing censorship in Finland.

Junior string players rehearse in the FLC Band Room. (Courtesy of J. Reynolds)

“The premiere coincided with a rising tide of nationalism, as Finland’s autonomy was threatened by Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II, who tried to suppress the Finnish language and culture,” she said. “Sibelius’ music was seen as a symbol of resistance. His music portrays the myths, culture and natural wonders of his homeland, and helped to encourage the struggle for Finnish independence.

“We are more than music education,” Siverson said. “We are building the next generation of creative community leaders in Colorado and New Mexico.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.