Director takes final bow |

Director takes final bow

Stina Sieg
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” How did it come about that Wendy Larson conducted Symphony in the Valley for the past 14 years?

“I kind of raised my hand,” she said, laughing a little.

When the group started 15 years ago, she was a cello player with some high school conducting under her belt. Soon, a call went out for a new conductor, and Larson simply volunteered herself. It was then that she entered an entirely new world.

“It was great because conducting is a pretty powerful experience,” she said. “I just got so much more experience and satisfaction out of conducting.”

For those who don’t know, Larson’s long run will end this year. Her last shows of the season are Saturday and Sunday, with a special program slated for the Fourth of July. After that, Carlos Elias will take over as conductor.

When describing her past and this massive life shift, Larson, 59, didn’t sound tired or sadly nostalgic. No, she seemed absolutely, infectiously delighted.

“I feel like I’m blessed,” she said.

“I don’t care whether you’re in a large city or a small town, not everyone gets their own orchestra.”

She admitted that, in the beginning, their little group wasn’t all that great. She was there to watch it grow, however, to help it become bigger and better and something to be proud of. Every week, she joined dozens of artists from across the valley in practice, and their dedication never stopped amazing her. Though she was teaching full-time at Aspen Middle School, she still made space to draw up shows in her mind. She bought hundreds of CDs and spent her summers creating programs for her upcoming seasons. Over the years, she experimented, trying out performances with themes like Broadway or World War II. At the turn of the century, she went “millennium crazy,” creating a show featuring hits from the last 10 decades. When asked how she did all this, she laughed some more and admitted she didn’t really know.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” she said. “You’ve got to love it.”

When it came to her favorite Symphony moment, she mentioned a 2006 performance. That’s when the group played alongside members of John Denver’s band at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera house. As she described the scene, she was full of awe, all over again.

“I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I don’t know. It’s like a peak experience you could have in your life.”

She was teary-eyed on that stage, and even during the show she knew how lucky she was. Perhaps everyone’s life would be better, she guessed, if they could feel that kind of beauty for themselves.

“There’s a certain power, a psychic power or whatever, to hear great music being performed live,” she said.

Of course that’s what she hopes to evoke this weekend.

She described the classic performance, whose beginning will be devoted to some of the valley’s youngest musicians. Concerto Competition winners Zoe Levine (soprano), 13, Jenaer Rader (piano), 14, William Ronning (violin), 17, and Sylvia Tran (violin), 12, will perform. Roaring Fork High School Senior Annie Tempest, 17, will give a violin recital, and Symphony member Pearce Littler, 17, will conduct his first, original orchestra piece. “Symphony One.”

After all this, Larson say good-bye to the Symphony with a bang.

“Loud” is how she described her second act. The arrangement of classical pieces is made up of short, powerful works, including Richard Wagner’s “The Great Gate of Kiev.”

“Don’t go out with a whimper,” she joked.

Her philosophy is all about leaving while you’re on top, too. Though she wasn’t exactly sure why she was going, she felt like it was just time to pass on the baton.

So, now what’s next for Larson?

“Who knows!” she exclaimed, sounding open to the adventure of it all.

“I’m just happy to have been at the right place, at the right time, raising my hand.”

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

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