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Music and the mysteries of human psychology

Pianist Inna Faliks will perform “Lilith,” a new concerto by Clarice Assad, with the San Juan Symphony in twin concerts Saturday and Sunday. (Courtesy of San Juan Symphony)
Orchestra performs works by Elgar, Brahms and Assad as season ends

The final program in the San Juan Symphony’s 39th season centers on ambiguity as only music can illuminate such a mysterious concept.

Titled “Enigmatic,” the twin concerts, Saturday and Sunday in Durango and Farmington, evolved from one work: Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” Composed in 1889, the set of 14 variations emerged from a single melody that Elgar, so the story goes, improvised at the piano after a long day of teaching. The tune as first introduced, seems slow and ponderous. Music lovers will recognize it immediately. Then it’s altered as the melody appears in 14 variations. Each was intended to be a disguised portrait of a friend, colleague and even a pet.

“Elgar uses the somber theme as a lens through which to cast light on his entire community, from his wife to his friends,” Thomas Heuser, artistic director of the orchestra, said. “And the music ends with a majestic self-portrait.”

If you go

WHAT: “Enigmatic,” San Juan Symphony 38th Season, Music Director Thomas Heuser, works by Brahms, Assad, Elgar.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Durango and 3 p.m. Sunday in Farmington.

WHERE: Community Concert Hall, Durango. Henderson Performance Hall, Farmington.

TICKETS: $21-$64.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 247-7567 or visit www.durangoconcerts.com.

Creating sonic equivalents of portraits or paintings was not original to Elgar, but the work is astonishing and thought provoking. So provocative, that Heuser and company built a program around it.

“The Elgar Variations was the starting basis for our whole ‘Enigmatic’ program,” he said. “Our hope was to combine his compelling musical portraits with evocative and mysterious works that also hint at more than just music beneath the surface.”

“Lilith” is a a new concerto by Clarice Assad. (Courtesy of San Juan Symphony)

Heuser will open the concert with Brahms’ “Tragic Overture.” The single -movement work doesn’t have a sub-script like the Elgar or so much of 19th century programmatic music. But it is emotionally rich, music for music’s sake, which paralleled the art-for-art’s-sake movement in visual culture. The overture is one of two Brahms composed in the 1880s when he was given an honorary doctorate at the University of Breslau. The pair included the exuberant “Academic Festival Overture,” and the sad “Tragic Overture.” It is known for its emotional turbulence and its dark conclusion – a perfect opener for a concert titled “Enigmatic.”

At the center of the concert, Heuser and company will perform a new work. “Lilith,” a concerto for piano and orchestra by Brazilian-American composer Clarice Assad is dedicated to and will be performed by the soloist, Ukrainian-born American citizen Inna Faliks.

“Assad’s wonderful new concerto is receiving its Western U.S. premiere with our symphony in our two performances,” Heuser said. “Inna will bring out all the nuances of this technically demanding work with the same grace and subtlety she brings to Mozart.”

Heuser and Faliks have a shared collaborative history including a previous performance with the San Juan Symphony. Faliks is professor of piano at UCLA, performs widely, and conducts master classes across the country, including one Thursday at Fort Lewis College. She’s the founder of Music/Words, a poetry-music radio series in which she collaborates with other artists. Her most recent publication is a memoir: “Weight in the Fingertips,” published this year.

Assad’s “Lilith” musically interprets the ancient archetype of the fierce, fully liberated woman, says Assad on her website. “… unbound by external chains of patriarchal suppression.”

The concerto’s three movements are, Faliks said in an interview on KDUR: “Spellbinder,’ ‘Forbidden’ and ‘Unchained.’ The piece is very passionate and there’s jazz and some Klezmer influence. I performed it a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C.”

There’s a lot to unpack, as they say, in a concert as emotionally rich and intriguing as this one that musically explores human psychology.

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