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Roswell’s symphony conductor shares thoughts on music, city

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To most people in Roswell, he is simply known as “The Maestro.”

Farrer

John Farrer has been conductor of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra for just over 45 years.

The symphony itself has only existed for 58 years, so it is an understatement to say that Farrer has been in it for the long haul.

Farrer lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and also conducts the Santa Maria Philharmonic in California, where he is in his 17th year.

He was associated with the San Francisco Symphony as cover conductor for the orchestra’s subscription concerts and is a frequent speaker in the San Francisco Symphony’s series of Inside Music talks. He has led that orchestra in Concerts for Kids.

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Farrer is music director emeritus/conductor laureate of the Bakersfield (California) Symphony Orchestra of which he was music director for 39 years.

He holds a doctorate in music from California State University and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan.

Farrer said he became interested in the conductor position in Roswell because the symphony had a good reputation and he had heard good things about it from the two previous conductors.

Farrer said there are only about 10 “full-time” orchestras in the United States. The remaining 1,200 or so are “regional orchestras” or “per-service orchestras” where conductors and musicians are paid for concerts and rehearsals and not a full-time salary.

Farrer said the Roswell Symphony stands out among per-service orchestras in that it draws musicians from all over the region from cities like Albuquerque, El Paso and Amarillo.

“That’s unusual,” he said. “Omaha has a per-service orchestra and everyone who plays is from Omaha.”

Farrer said the rehearsal schedule for a per-service orchestra is much more compressed than for a larger symphony. In a typical week at Boston Symphony Orchestra, Farrer said, rehearsals for the weekend concerts begin on Tuesday.

“Our musicians appear for the first rehearsal on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,” he said.

On Fridays there are two rehearsals, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

The subscription concerts are held on Saturday night, with the exception of the Christmas concert, which is held on Sunday afternoon.

For a city of its size, Roswell is fortunate to have its own symphony, Farrer said. He attributes that to the generosity and support of the community.

Then there is the quality of the soloists who perform with Roswell’s symphony. He mentioned that on April 21, pianist Daniel Hsu, a 2017 Van Cliburn medalist, will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.

“I honesty don’t know of any other city this size that has this quality of soloists,” he said.

In early February, the Roswell’s symphony rocked out a bit with “Live and Let Die: A Symphonic Tribute to Paul McCartney” that featured Tony Kishman.

Farrer said he doesn’t call himself a Beatles fan, but admires the staying power of their music.

“Those pieces were written over 50 years ago,” he said. Farrer said the Beatles were part of the popular culture when he was a student, but he was listening to the other “B’s” — Beethoven, Brahms and Bach.

In response to the “desert island” question, Farrer said if he had to spend the rest of his life on a desert island and could listen to only one composer, that composer would be J.S. Bach.

“His music is so expressive,” he said.

In practical terms, however, Farrer said his favorite composer is the composer of the score he is working to conduct.

“I spend the bulk of time in preparation so I know the piece thoroughly,” he said. “No matter how many times you have conducted a piece, you need to renew your knowledge of the score. It is important that you, as conductor, learn the piece as Beethoven wrote it.”

He said it also is important to refer to the original score if there are any notes that may be in question. Farrer said that parts are sent out to the players before the concerts so that they can practice on their own before the rehearsals.

He guessed that for any given concert, the Roswell Symphony has between 55 to 60 players, and that the number of players who are different from concert to concert is in the 10 to 15 range.

“Fortunately, we have a core of people who have been in orchestra for years who occupy key positions,” he said.

Along with that, it is the quality of the musicians themselves, many of whom work full-time jobs and raise families.

“There is precisely 48 hours between the downbeat of rehearsal on Thursday evening and the downbeat of the concert on Saturday,” he said. “This requires a lot of talent on part of players.”

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.

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