Albuquerque violinist and conductor Guillermo Figueroa takes the podium for the first time as The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus’ new principal conductor during the “Sibelius, Mozart & Brahms” performance on January 22 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Figueroa was selected as the symphony’s principal conductor after a three-year search that concluded in early 2016.
Figueroa recalls how he wanted to be involved in the Santa Fe music scene when he came to town in 1986 to become the assistant concertmaster of the Santa Fe Opera orchestra. “I feel I’ve come full circle,” he said during an interview late last spring. “I worked with many of the Santa Fe Symphony musicians during the 10 years I conducted the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. There’s a chemistry between us.”
Figueroa begins his much-anticipated premiere with “Finlandia,” a symphonic poem composed in 1899 by Jean Sibelius, who was moved to pay tribute to the struggles of his homeland and the heroic Finnish people.
The program features the symphony’s principal bassoonist, Stefanie Przybylska, who takes center stage in Mozart’s “Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K. 191.” She describes the concerto as a very well-written piece that “may be simple in some ways but is not easy to play.” A former freelance musician from Chicago, she enjoys coaching woodwind chamber music students who participate in the Albuquerque Youth Symphony program in addition to playing with the Santa Fe Symphony.
“Many bassoonists have a love/hate relationship with the piece because they frequently have to dust it off and play it for auditions and in concerts,” Przybylska explains. “I love this work and always enjoy playing it.” Composed in 1774 when Mozart was only 18 years old, this work is one of three bassoon concerti reported to have been written by Mozart, but it’s the only one that has ever been found.
Figueroa closes the program with Brahms’ final symphonic work, “Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98.” Often described as “serious, tragic, melancholy, dark and deep,” this four-movement work, which premiered in 1885, is considered one of Brahms’ most powerful masterpieces.
“We’re all thrilled to welcome Guillermo as our new principal conductor,” says the symphony’s founder and executive director Gregory Heltman. “In collaboration with our musicians, his musicality, conducting skills and wide-ranging background promise to give our audience the highest level experience.”