Written by Mike Cook
Photography courtesy Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra
Two major local attractions—the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra (LCSO) and the brand new Downtown Plaza—will come together for the first time this fall. The symphony, under the direction of Dr. Lonnie Klein, will perform its third ever Pops Under the Stars concert (and first on the Plaza) on Friday, September 8.
The orchestra has been a part of Las Cruces for almost 60 years. The Plaza opened last fall on north Main Street, across from the Rio Grande Theatre. “I can get a really big orchestra there,” says Lonnie, who led his first LCSO concert in October 1999. With 80 musicians and a large choir for the performance, Lonnie expects to put about 125 performers on stage.
The concert will include Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and a laser-light show. The featured performer will be coloratura soprano Diane Penning of Ann Arbor, Michigan, whom Klein has worked with before. Penning will perform a mix of classical, pops, Broadway, and Hollywood songs. The event will include food vendors and beer and wine sales. Tickets will be $15 and table sponsorships will be available for $500.
Tickets for individual LCSO performances are $35 to $45, depending on where you sit in NMSU’s Atkinson Recital Hall, where LCSO performs most of its concerts. Season tickets are $165 to $240, again depending on your seat location.
For ticket information, to view a seating chart,
and for additional information, visit lascrucessymphony.com.
Praise for Lonnie Klein and the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra
“The fact that a city the size of Las Cruces has an orchestra of such quality is a testament to the incredible talent and hard work of Lonnie Klein and the musicians. I feel so fortunate to work with these people. Lonnie has become a beloved friend to my family, and getting to collaborate with him on projects is truly a joy.” -LCSO Executive Director Debra Medoff Marks
“After every concert I tell Lonnie, ‘You’ve done it again, Maestro—another home run smashed out of the park.’ We are incredibly lucky to have such a talented conductor and fine orchestra in Las Cruces.” -Las Cruces Symphony Association Board President Cynthia Garrett.
“His love for what he does is abundantly apparent every time he takes the stage with the amazing orchestra he’s created.” -Award-winning Playwright Mark Medoff
Meet the Maestro
In the past 17-plus years, Lonnie has become not only LCSO’s director, but also its most recognizable feature, creating one of the most successful arts organizations and marketing strategies in city history. When Lonnie became LCSO director in 1999, the symphony had an annual budget of $150,000. This year, it will top $600,000. That growth continued during the 2007-09 recession when “lots of other smaller orchestras had to fold,” he says. “We still have a lot of corporate support that we’ve had over the years and individual donations are solid. We haven’t raised ticket prices in eight or nine years—we didn’t want to run people off.”
A native of Henderson, Kentucky, Lonnie knew he wanted to direct an orchestra from the age of 10, and was a drum major by age 13. His bucket list includes conducting Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and sharing the stage with guest artists like Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo-Yo Ma.
“Lonnie has become a brother to me,” says Tony-winning playwright Mark Medoff. The two had recent collaborations on productions of the musicals Carousel and Annie Get Your Gun for LCSO and have worked together on other productions as well. “I’m not sure which of us is the older, because we are capable of wide-ranging but rejuvenating juvenile behavior together. But we’ve also had several fairly mature collaborations that were of enormous satisfaction to both of us as well as our audiences. His athleticism stuns me each concert and makes me wonder what kind of career he could have had as a contortionist or gymnast.”
(Lonnie has a steel ball in his left knee and has suffered rotator cuff and elbow injuries during his tenure as an orchestra leader.)
Since moving to Las Cruces, he has aimed to be actively involved in the community. He has worked with March of Dimes and Rotary Club, and been involved in fundraisers for the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico, Special Olympics, and Boys and Girls Club. “When you’re out, people will come up and typically talk about the next concert, the next guest artist,” he explains. “I think it’s important that you have a face for the orchestra in the community, and that’s what I’ve tried to do rather than just fly in and fly out.”
Even though he has had offers to go elsewhere, Lonnie has stayed in Las Cruces for nearly two decades because, “number one, we have tremendous support; that’s always been encouraging for me; and, number two, we have a very fine orchestra for our size,” he says. “When you build something for pretty much two-thirds of your career, you’re really connected to it. It’s hard to give that up.”
But that hasn’t kept him from guest conducting across the country and around the world, including 11 visits to Italy, as well as stops in South America, Canada, Turkey, Romania, Spain, and many other countries. “I’ve conducted a lot of orchestras with bigger budgets; frankly we’re on par with them in terms of how we play,” he confirms. “When I get home, I’m glad to get back to my own orchestra.” m
From 1958-Present: A Brief History of LCSO
LCSO got its start in 1958 under the guidance of New Mexico State University vocal music professor Oscar Butler. According to their website, “In 1961, Dr. John Glowacki, the new head of the Department of Fine Arts at NMSU, merged the fledgling community orchestra with the university orchestra, forming the University-Civic Symphony. In 1975, Dr. Marianna Gabbi became conductor of the orchestra. Under her leadership, the Las Cruces Symphony Society (now the Las Cruces Symphony Association) was formed.”