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Music’s best kept secret revealed

Music Director Thomas Heuser reveals a new chamber music ensemble under the umbrella of the San Juan Symphony. (Illustration courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
San Juan Symphony introduces new chamber ensemble

Inside his maestro’s jacket, Thomas Heuser has been keeping a secret. The San Juan Symphony now has a string quartet. Made up of principal chairs from the orchestra’s string sections, the quartet will introduce itself in twin concerts this weekend.

At 7 p.m. Friday, the quartet will perform in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Durango. The ensemble will repeat the program at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Connie Gotsch Theater at San Juan College in Farmington.

Featuring works by two contemporary composers in the first half, the quartet will conclude with a dazzling mid-period quartet by Beethoven. It’s been a long time coming. And it’s a first for chamber music lovers in the Four Corners.

Last spring, when the San Juan Symphony absorbed the highly-regarded Third Avenue Arts organization, music fans hoped that stand-alone recitals and festivals would continue. The Symphony has recast its now extended chamber music offerings as Beyond the Concert Hall. Season ticket sales went into effect last fall, and fans can look forward to the annual Bach Festival, for example, to continue. The Durango Chamber Singers have been re-christened as the San Juan Symphony Chamber Singers, and now a new ensemble has added luster to yearly offerings.

If you go

WHAT: San Juan Symphony String Quartet Recital.

WHEN: Durango, 7 p.m. Friday. Farmington. 2 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Durango, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 910 East Third Ave. Farmington, Connie Gotsch Theater, San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd., Farmington.

TICKETS: Durango, $5-$24, available at www.durangoconcerts.com or www.sanjuansymphony.org. Farmington, $7-$22 available at sjcboxoffice.universitytickets.com.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 382-9753.

Out of this creative cauldron, the SJS String Quartet has been born. On Jan. 3, an announcement of its formation went out inviting music lovers to “an intimate and impactful concert of string quartet repertoire.”

This is no small endeavor as the new ensemble is a resident string quartet made up of the principal chairs from the orchestra: Concertmaster Lauren Avery, violinist Tennille Taylor, violist Karl Winkler and cellist Katherine Jetter.

Over the years, various iterations of other chamber ensembles have come and gone, performing duos, a piano trio, even a small chamber orchestra, but never a string quartet.

“We are excited about the upcoming recital,” Avery said. “Whenever I get the chance to program a recital, I always look for a balance of standard pieces that I love and works that are new to me and presumably to most of our audience.”

The quartet will open with two works, likely be new to most audience members: Elena Kats-Cherrin’s “Eliza Aria” and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate’s “Pisachi,” the Chickasaw word for “reveal.”

Kats-Chernin is a Soviet-born Australian composer and pianist with an impressive performance and recording career. Her music “popped up” in Avery’s research when she was looking for something to round out a program weighted by Beethoven.

“’Eliza Aria’ is light and charming, and I think it will put a smile on people’s faces,” she said.

SJS String Quartet includes Concertmaster Lauren Avery and violist Karl Winkler. (Courtesy of San Juan Symphony)
SJS String Quartet features violinist Tennille Taylor and cellist Katherine Jetter. (Courtesy of San Juan Symphony)

The short, 3-minute piece, is from Kats-Chernin’s ballet “Wild Swans” and has been transcribed for a variety of instruments from solo piano to flute-and-piano to string quartet. It’s also been recorded and can be listened to on YouTube. Kats-Chernin was born in 1957, and now at age 66 has an extensive body of work.

Tate’s intensely emotional work will follow. It’s a 13-minute piece Avery said she uncovered after the Chickasaw composer’s orchestral piece “Chokfi’ – Sarcasm” had been selected for the Feb. 10 and 11 symphony concerts.

“I looked further into his catalog and found ‘ Pisachi’ for string quartet, which seemed uniquely appropriate for this recital and for our community,” she said. “It is a fascinating an evocative work.”

In a separate interview, Music Director and Conductor Thomas Heuser said: “We’re trying to diversify our programs in general. Our goal is to incorporate individual Indigenous voices, and Jerod’s music does that.”

Born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1968, Tate defines himself as a Chickasaw classical composer and pianist. He has music degrees from Northwestern University and the Cleveland Institute of Music. He retains his middle name, Implchchaachaaha, which means “his high corncrib” and is his inherited traditional Chickasaw house name.

Since completing his graduate work in piano performance and composition, Tate has had numerous commissions and his music is performed throughout America and Europe. His works have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, National Symphony, Santa Fe Chamber Festival and Desert Chorale. In 2021, he was appointed Cultural ambassador by the U.S. Department of State, one of 31, who engaged with international audiences in multicountry tours.

You can listen to different recordings of “Pisachi” on YouTube to prepare yourself for the live performance.

The recital will conclude with Beethoven’s Op 59 No. 3.

“It is so joyful and soulful and complex,” Avery said. “It’s always been a favorite of mine.”

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