A Grand Finale: Maestro Kirk Gustafson’s final concert as music director of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra

On Tuesday, April 19th, Kirk Gustafson’s 28 year tenure as Music Director of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra concludes in A Grand Finale with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s epic Messa da Requiem at the Grand Junction High School Auditorium. The concert begins at 7:30pm and Gustafson will be joined by soprano Eleni Calenos, mezzo-soprano Clea Huston, tenor Clay Hilley and bass Harold Wilson along with the Grand Junction Symphony Chorus.

Since 1987, Maestro Kirk Gustafson has led the Grand Junction Symphony in over 200 performances for over 300,000 children and adults. Gustafson is credited with bringing the GJSO to a new artistic level including a longstanding commitment to the orchestra’s artistic growth, diverse programming of orchestral masterworks never before performed in Grand Junction, and the introduction of nationally recognized artists to audience members.

In the Spring of 2014, Gustafson informed the GJSO that he intended to retire at the end of his current contract (which ends June 2016). At that time, a Music Director Search Committee was formed and met regularly to fill the eventual vacancy. Nearly 200 conductors applied for the position with only four being chosen as finalists. Those four, Thomas Heuser, Matthew Steven Brown, Charles Latshaw and Wesley Schulz, conducted the GJSO in concerts this last October, January, February and March, respectively. From those finalists, one will be chosen to succeed Maestro Gustafson as the Music Director of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra.

In preparing for his final season, Gustafson chose one of his favorite choral works, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, as the piece to conclude his career. He first conducted the Requiem with the GJSO nearly 20 years ago in November of 1996. Giuseppe Verdi wrote his Messa da Requiem in 1873.  It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired. The first performance was in Milan on May 22, 1874, on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. In fact, Verdi offered to bear the cost of printing the score and parts if the city of Milan would pay for the performance with Verdi conducting a chorus of 140 voices and an orchestra of over 100. The Requiem also pays homage to the great Italian opera composer, Rossini, for whom Verdi composed the Libera me as part of a Requiem Mass to be prepared collaboratively by the best Italian composers. This was to be performed on the first anniversary of Rossini’s death but was never completed.

Greek soprano Eleni Calenos is capturing the admiration of critics and audiences alike for the clarity, warmth and beauty of her lyric voice and her dignified characterizations. Ms. Calenos holds a Performance Certificate/Degree from the Opera Institute of Boston University, a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from Queens College, City University of New York, and a Diploma in Violoncello Performance from the Municipal Conservatory of Thessaloniki, Greece.

Mezzo-soprano Clea Huston has a unique and powerful voice “with formidable virtuosity over a wide range” (The Boston Globe). Mrs. Huston was a Metropolitan Opera Regional Finalist in San Francisco and an Alberta Heritage of Arts Scholarship recipient (a prestigious career grant). She equally enjoys the concert and operatic stage and has been seen in these venues across the country and internationally.

With a clarion sound and compelling stage presence, tenor Clay Hilley has established himself as an artist on the rise in the dramatic and heldentenor repertoire. Recent successes include Radames in Aïda as guest artist with the Bob Jones University Opera, the title role in Faust with Winter Opera St. Louis, a return engagement with American Symphony Orchestra for Strauss’s Feuersnot conducted by Mo. Leon Botstein, Father Grenville in Dead Man Walking with Madison Opera, and a cover of Cavaradossi in Tosca with Atlanta Opera.

Harold Wilson began his 2014-2015 season with the Dayton Opera, singing works by Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky in a gala concert. The American bass also debuted with Opera Colorado as Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte and Opera Memphis as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, and joined the Metropolitan Opera for its production of Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tulsa Opera for Frère Laurent in Roméo et Juliette. Mr. Wilson earned his master‘s degree from Indiana University, where he studied with renowned bass Giorgio Tozzi.

Tickets for A Grand Finale are on sale now and can be purchased online at GJSO.org, by calling 243-6787 or visiting the Grand Junction Symphony office at 414 Main Street, Downtown Grand Junction. Tickets may also be available at the Grand Junction High School box office one hour prior to the performance.

All seating is reserved and ticket prices are $25, $30 and $35 for adults and only $5 for students.

A Grand Finale is sponsored by Chuck & Robbie Breaux and Ron Beckman. The Breaux’s and Mr. Beckman have been and continue to be great supporters of the GJSO and the arts in the Grand Valley.

Whether you have been under the baton of Maestro Kirk Gustafson at any time over the last 28 years as a musician or chorus member or have enjoyed seeing him grow the Grand Junction Symphony into a fine orchestra as a season ticket holder or concert attendee, you won’t want to miss A Grand Finale on Tuesday, April 19th at 7:30pm in the Grand Junction High School Auditorium.

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