The maestro and the visionary, Durango Herald, Aug. 5, 2008


Music in the Mountains closed its season at BootJack Ranch near Pagosa Springs on Friday with a concert by the Festival Orchestra titled “Passion and Power” with Aviram Reichert as piano soloist.

Change is good. Visionaries turn their creations over to another and watch as the progeny builds upon their ideas, adding their own perspective and creating something they hope will be even grander.

Guillermo Figueroa took over this season as music director and conductor for Music in the Mountains, bringing his intense musicianship and elegant technique to Durango and Pagosa Springs.

Figueroa replaced the well- beloved Mischa Semanitzky, who retired last year. Figueroa did not just step in and fill Semanitzky’s shoes; he brought his own passion for music and an intense program of difficult and challenging music to the festival.

“I may have overdid it in the intensity of the programs, but they’ve (the musicians) responded very well,” Figueroa said during intermission for “Passion and Power” at Boot-Jack Ranch on Friday. “I think I’m going to collapse,” he said with a smile.

Figueroa writes in his program notes that when he was “invited to lead the Festival Orchestra as a guest conductor last season and given only one-and-a-half rehearsals, I was somewhat apprehensive. But to my delight, this orchestra was so extraordinary and well prepared that we immediately began work on bringing all of the emotional nuances and beauty to the program.”

Perhaps that is why he felt confident in selecting such a rigorous musical program for his debut during the festival’s 22nd season.

“Passion and Power,” Friday night’s final concert of the season in Pagosa Springs, opened with “The Chairman Dances,” a foxtrot for orchestra by John Adams. Adams is from the minimalist school and his composition repeats rhythms in subtle ways, yet is very lyrical.

After Adams foxtrot, the stage was reset for Schumann’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor Opus 54” featuring soloist Aviram Reichert.

Reichert is the consummate performer. The Van Cliburn medalist plays the piano with his entire body, not just his exquisite hands. In a composition that challenges orchestra and soloist to communicate flawlessly to create a timbre – a unifying sound between piano and orchestra – the conductor, his soloist and the musicians performed flawlessly.

Reichert plays from memory, no musical score in front of him, and when I asked him later how many concertos he had committed to memory, he acknowledged that there were about 20 works in his musical cache.

Poignantly, Reichert returned for his encore and dedicated a brief Alexander Scriabin piece to David J. Brown, the owner of BootJack Ranch, “for what he’s given us the last seven years.” Reichert called the short composition a “Page From a Memory Album.”

After intermission, the quiet and private Brown and his wife, Carol, acknowledged what many already know, that BootJack Ranch is on the market. The Browns are moving to Scottsdale, Ariz., in mid-August where they will live during the school year.

“We have committed to have Music in the Mountains held here next year, and we are asking any of the prospects that this would be part of the deal,” Brown said to the audience. “We are going to miss this. We have been blessed by this music festival.”

Brown recounted how Music in the Mountains in Pagosa came to be. How in 2002, when he was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, he sat and looked out at this incredible setting wondering what it would take to bring music to the valley. He contacted his cousin, Jackson Clark in Durango, who put him in touch with the festival’s past president, Jim Foster, and a first performance for about 100 people was scheduled for BootJack Ranch. In its seventh season, said Pagosa Chairwoman Janice Moomaw, about 2,400 have attended concerts this summer at BootJack Ranch under a tent donated by the Browns.

During their final performance of the season in Pagosa Springs, the orchestra and Figueroa dedicated a rousing performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony to David Brown. The music was filled with emotion and passion.

It was a brilliant ending. Let’s hope the visionary who purchases the ranch will have as much vision as David J. Brown and his family has. And if they are as elegant and precise as Figueroa, then the future of Music in the Mountains in Pagosa Springs will remain bright. Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.

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