This review appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of April 14, 1998.
Saturday's glowing performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony marked a watershed for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. A year ago, even six months ago, who would have thought that a confident and revitalized NMSO would be delivering this mighty work to a sold-out house in Popejoy Hall?
The NMSO's renewal reflects the same triumph of the human spirit that Beethoven celebrates in his final symphony. Without dedication, tenacity, and, above all, faith, the NMSO could so easily have fallen by the wayside like a number of orchestras around the country did when difficulties hit.
That the NMSO did not stands as a resounding tribute to many. There were the players who hung fast and played through the hard times; the board who kept the faith and found the money; director David Lockington who tirelessly sought to place music in the forefront of Albuquerque life; associate conductor and choral director Roger Melone who quietly worked at building support; new executive director Kevin Hagen who saw the NMSO's promise and its dedicated staff; the donors who extended the symphony a lifeline; and the audiences who loved music and their symphony orchestra.
At the end of Saturday's concert the audience stood and cheered a long time. They were not only applauding the performance but also savoring the victory. By one of those uncanny coincidences that life at its highest moments sometimes offers, this celebration of the NMSO's passage and resurrection took place on the weekend of both Easter and Passover.
One fact stands clear. The NMSO has shaken off its doubts and moved to another plane.
That shift has now been publicly confirmed and affirmed. The NMSO may not, probably will not, always sustain the same intensity and unity of purpose of this particular night, but it will be a different orchestra and a different organization from now on.
Without dimming the glow of Saturday's success it should be noted that there is still plenty of room for growth. Significantly, that growth can now focus more on musical matters, like increasingly subtle interpretations and wider explorations of repertoire.
The great, time-tested works such as Beethoven's Ninth forge steel links with an audience. The wise orchestra uses those links to heighten the musical journey by traveling to less familiar terrain. The NMSO is already moving in that direction with next season's Third Symphony of Henryk Gorecki, a major contemporary composer from Poland who takes inspiration from past spiritual traditions.
In Saturday night's performance, Lockington displayed a strong sense of musical continuity, confidently and vigorously moving Beethoven's drama forward. He held the reins tightly in the first movement, loosening up to convey the buoyant energy of the second movement scherzo. The deeper beauties of the third movement proved more elusive, though its phrases were lovingly shaped.
The final movement with its great ``Ode to Joy'' sung by chorus and soloists turned into a whirling celebration that caught up everyone on stage and off. The chorus, solidly prepared by Roger Melone, and the quartet of soloists, soared past the challenges of Beethoven's writing to deliver with the orchestra a ringing affirmation of the human spirit.