Threading the needle — How the Santa Fe Symphony stitched together its opening concert

Alexi Kenney

For its opening concert this season, the Santa Fe Symphony had a lot of needles to thread.

“We wanted to honor our commitment to violinist Alexi Kenney, who had been contracted to open last season with us,” says principal conductor Guillermo Figueroa. “We wanted a program that could include the entire orchestra, but also work with coronavirus safety protocols about how many players could be onstage simultaneously, and we wanted it to be a relatively short, intermissionless event.”

Kenney suggested several possibilities, with the symphony opting for tango master Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Las cuatro estaciones porteñas). “Buenos Aires” doesn’t appear in the work’s title, at least not in a literal sense, but porteñas refers to the ports where the tango was born. In part an homage to Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, it’s a beguiling 25-minute piece, performed here in a version for violin soloist and string orchestra.

“With the strings taken care of, next we thought, ‘Well, we have to find something for the brass players,’ and Anthony Barfield’s Invictus seemed like an especially appropriate choice,” Figueroa said. The title means unconquerable, and his fanfare celebrates what the composer described as the invincible spirit of New York City.

“I’ve learned that people feel a sense of anxiety,” Barfield wrote in an introduction to the work, “and yet a sense of community and hopefulness that change for the better is on the horizon.”

The performers at its premiere reflected that sense of community, with members of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Juilliard School, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet orchestra and the Mostly Mozart Festival orchestra playing together for the first time, under the composer’s direction on Lincoln Center’s outdoor plaza.

The original choice to spotlight the wind players was Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie, which is scored for flute plus pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns.

“When capacity restrictions became less stringent, we decided to find something brilliant for the full orchestra to play that would still showcase the winds,” Figueroa said, “and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol seemed perfect.”

Perhaps a wee bit jealous of his countryman’s astonishing skill, Tchaikovsky called it “a colossal masterpiece of instrumentation.”

Season Opener, Santa Fe Symphony, 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, Lensic Performance Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St., $22-$80, 505-983-1414,

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