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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   December 2011

The Lively Arts

Meet the Maestro

As conductor and music director of the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra, Lonnie Klein handles the baton and details from the artistic to the mundane.

by Jeff Berg

 

 

For a city the size of Las Cruces and considering the demographics of same, this mini-metropolis is quite fortunate to have some unique people whose passions lie within the different fields of the arts. In recent years, I have profiled several of them, including authors Jennifer Cervantes, Robert Boswell and Charles Bowden, playwright and filmmaker Mark Medoff, playwright Tom Smith, mixed-media artist Mari Broenen, photographers David Taylor and Robert Yee, and even the vibrant founder of the Desert Dolls Burlesque troupe, Camille Adams.

maestro

Most, with the exception of Broenen, still live at least part-time in Las Cruces, although Adams and Yee may be leaving the area within the next year or so.

One person in the arts who isn't planning on going anywhere soon, and one who has had an enormous influence on the local classical music scene, is Dr. Lonnie Klein.

Klein is the music director and conductor of the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra, which is an amazing group of talented musicians for such a small community. The LCSO and guest violinist Stefan Jackiw will be performing in Silver City on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and in Las Cruces on Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 3 p.m.

Everybody has a mental picture of an orchestra's conductor. But what most people don't know is that the role of music director is just as important as being the conductor, and encompasses all aspects of the symphony program.

Klein has led the orchestra since 1999, after studying at Murray State University in Kentucky, Michigan State and the University of Evansville in Indiana, and receiving a doctorate from the University of Illinois.

"I ran away to the symphony," he offers in his high-energy style. "I always knew that I wanted to be a conductor, and used to wonder how I could make that happen."

 

Having a musical background helps, as Klein's father was a clarinetist. He took lessons from his father until the age of 13, at which time a professor in Evansville took over. Klein also took conducting classes as early as high school.

Although his frenetic schedule doesn't allow Klein to play the clarinet any longer, he does miss it. "Too busy," he says, but adds that he did play for 25 years in different orchestras in Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

"This is my 13th season here, and I came here through an ad I read in a publication from the Director's Guild," Klein recalls. "I noted the opening, liked the size of the city, university and orchestra, and had a strong sense of being able to grow the orchestra. I was artistically driven and liked the quality of the musicians, and also had never traveled much in the Southwest, so I applied.

"There were 67 applicants for the position, and I was one of the final three. I came for a week in March of 1999, and have been here since."

As one can imagine, positions for symphony conductors are few and far between, and the competition can be acute. The El Paso Symphony Orchestra conductor's position is currently available, and Klein says that there were 250 applicants for it.

"There would probably be the same number for this position if I chose to leave it," he adds.

This month, the LCSO will hit the road, albeit briefly, with a performance with guest violinist Stefan Jackiw in Silver City on Friday, Dec. 2, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The performance will be at the WNMU Fine Arts Center Theater and is presented by a notable collaboration between the Mimbres Region Arts Council and the Grant County Community Concert Association. Admission is $20 for adults, $5 for children to age 17; this performance is not included in the GCCCA season subscription. For more information, call (575) 538-2505 or (575) 538-5862 or see www.mimbresarts.org or www.gcconcerts.org.

In Las Cruces, LCSO and Jackiw will perform on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at NMSU's Atkinson Hall. For more information, call (575) 646-3709 or see lascrucessymphony.com.

Klein will also host his pre-concert "Musical Musings with the Maestro" on Dec. 1 at 12 noon at the Ramada Palms Hotel and Conference Center, 201 E. University Ave., in Las Cruces. Includes lunch, $16.

Applying for such a position, of course, can be a rigorous undertaking. Klein says that when a conductor is being considered there are many things that are taken into consideration, including things beyond musical talent and knowledge.

"It is a business, not just an art form," he explains. "It takes us $40,000-$45,000 to produce a single LCSO show, and that can go as high as $60,000 for the Pops show. Our budget is three and a half times higher than it was when I came here, going from $147,000 to $462,000."

The Pops is a once-a-year, two-performances gala, which this year will take place on Jan. 7 and 8. "Broadway Rocks" is the theme, and it will include rock-inspired music from a number of Broadway musicals such as The Wiz, Hairspray and Tommy. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres will be available before the show, which will take place at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

 

The LCSO season takes a long time to pull together. "I start planning a year ahead, so I am currently working on the 2012-13 season now. I'm working to secure guest artists and started studying for next year this past June," Klein says. "It's a continual process.

 

 

 

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