Southwest Symphony Orchestra, featuring Michael Martin Murphey
The country/bluegrass/folk artist earned a platinum single with “Wildfire,” among other hits, and has penned songs recorded by the likes of John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Cher, and Lyle Lovett. He’s touring in support of his current album, Red River Drifter. 7 p.m. at Tydings Auditorium. (575) 738-1041; swsymphony.org
While in Hobbs for a symphony concert, here’s where to stay, dine, and explore.
This Asian-fusion restaurant, which serves everything from stir-fry to sushi, is a favorite for pre- concert dinners and postconcert cocktails. Restaurant owner Joe Yue is a symphony patron, and Genevieve Cavanaugh, executive director, often treats performers to meals here. (575) 392-0030; pacificrimhobbs.net
Hobbs Family Inn/ Saxony Steakhouse
This family-run establishment offers comfortable lodging and excellent service. The resturant serves a great steak and offers an extensive wine list. (575) 397-3251; hobbsfamilyinn.com
For a hearty breakfast or lunch, hit up this cozy eatery in the heart of Hobbs. The menu, built around favorites like biscuits and gravy and green chile cheese burgers, is a crowd-pleaser. (575) 393-0308; eatcaseys.com
Western Heritage Museum and Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame
No trip to Hobbs is complete without a visit to this complex, which celebrates Western history and lifestyle. It also touts local legends from Lea County, which boasts more professional rodeo world champions than any other county in New Mexico. (575) 392-6730; museumshobbsnm.org
Zia Park Casino, Hotel, and Racetrack
This Hobbs entertainment destination opened a 150-room hotel in August. The hotel has the newest, as well as some of the plushest, accommodations in town. Zia Park offers three dining options: the Centennial Steakhouse; the Turf Club Restaurant, overlooking the racetrack; and the State Line Showroom, which serves sand- wiches, pizzas, and burgers. (888) 942-7275; ziaparkcasino.com
FRESH FROM A DINNER out, a smartly dressed crowd files into an auditorium’s glass-enclosed foyer and takes its places in the 2,000-seat concert hall. On stage, rows of musicians line the oak-hued stage. The audience’s chatter softens as the conductor raises his baton.
This isn’t some major metropolitan scene—it’s a night at the Southwest Symphony, in Hobbs. Here, evening attire may mean jeans, bolo ties, cowboy boots, turquoise jewelry, and a freshly pressed shirt (it is New Mexico, after all). The venue, Tydings Auditorium, is at the local high school. The performances, how- ever, are executed to the highest standards. As the only source of classical and pops music in a 100-mile radius, the symphony has been a cultural cornerstone in southeastern New Mexico for more than 30 years, and its new season, studded with nationally recognized acts, is proof that it continues to thrive.
Founded by ranchers, Hobbs flourished under oil and gas development, and in the past decade has achieved a diversified energy industry that includes natural gas and nuclear power. That growth has transformed Hobbs from a dusty cattle town into a burgeoning city of some 35,000 residents, many new arrivals clamoring for culture.
Rae Coger, Southwest Symphony governing board president for the upcoming season, moved to Hobbs in 2006 from Buffalo, New York, where she and her husband regularly attended pops concerts conducted by the late, famed composer Marvin Hamlisch. The Southwest Symphony’s presence in Hobbs, Coger says, reassured her that her new hometown valued the arts. So did the culture at her employer, Urenco USA, a nuclear fuel company that has provided the symphony with both funding and enthusiastic fans.
Indeed, support from energy-plex businesses and the City of Hobbs has kept the symphony not just afloat but growing through the recent economic recession, even as many similar organizations across the country have folded. Since 2008, as Hobbs has benefited from the energy boom, symphony atten- dance has increased by an average of 15 to 20 percent each year.
But it was ordinary Hobbs citizens, with their ranch culture of neighbors helping neighbors, who first saw the value of a regional symphony three decades ago. In 1983, spurred by the suspension of Hobbs’ Community Concert Series, residents banded together to create a new outlet for classical music. Joyce Walker, who has lived in Hobbs since 1956 and got involved with the Southwest Symphony shortly after its founding, served on the board for 28 years and is now a member of Friends of the Symphony. As a piano teacher, she knew the importance of the arts.
“I wanted the symphony to become part of the community and people’s lives, because I knew their lives would be enriched from that, in a deeper and longer-lasting way than just going and listening to music,” she says.
In the first five years, Walker says, it was difficult to convince attendees and financial backers that the symphony was an asset. In fact, most were betting against the small town start-up with a big vision. A $50,000 grant from New Mexico Arts in the early 1990s marked a turning point, funding a fiddle camp for kids and demonstrating the symphony’s potential to have an impact on the community.
Sharing classical music with youth is a central tenet of the symphony’s mission and programming. Each season, it presents performances to third- and fourth-grade classes in Hobbs and nearby communities such as Lovington and Tatum, and hosts master classes that feature its guest performers and musicians. It also sponsors five student programs and offers free admission to local junior college students.
“When I look at kids in the community who are more arts-driven, I’m fighting for them because I was that kid,” says Executive Director Genevieve Cavanaugh, who grew up listening to the Las Cruces Symphony. “Now I’m raising two children, and I’m glad they have something like Southwest Symphony here. I like to show them this is possible in small towns, not just metropolises—that you can make these things happen right here, right now.”
A son of Hobbs is at the symphony’s helm. Dr. Mark Jelinek, who is entering his 20th season as the symphony’s artistic director, grew up there. He now conducts Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University Community Orchestra and Bloomsburg University Chamber Orchestra, in addition to his duties with the Southwest Symphony. Jelinek says that earlier in his career, “I had wanted to come back to Hobbs and teach strings in high school. But now I’m not only conducting an orchestra in Hobbs, I’m doing it with high-caliber musicians.”
With a base of 12 to 15 musicians from Hobbs proper, the symphony orchestra draws additional talent from symphonies in Albuquerque, Farmington, Roswell, and Lubbock, Texas. Depending on the musical needs of each performance, the symphony’s numbers fluctuate between 40 and 75 players.
Each season, the symphony performs three classical or pops concerts exclusively with its orchestra. “I look for pieces the audience knows well or might have heard growing up,” says Jelinek. “We don’t get into eclectic music.”
That’s not to say the symphony doesn’t expose audiences to diverse programming. In addition to its bigger shows, it presents a Cultural Arts Series featuring four additional performances with musicians who “take a step to the right or left of classical music,” as Cavanaugh puts it. “We want to bring in different types of influences to renew the cultural influences of art and music in the area.”
Last year, the jazz pianist Jane Monheit, a Steinway artist, performed in Hobbs on a Steinway newly purchased for the audito- rium. Although the instrument belongs to the school system, the symphony’s frequent performances in the auditorium mean it can now call itself a Steinway orchestra. “It’s an amazing thing for us,” says Cavanaugh. “Suddenly a whole new group of artists can play with us because, as Steinway artists, they can only play on that instrument.”
The 2014–15 season kicked off in Sep- tember; season tickets are only $50 for adults (individual concert tickets are $20). Shows that feature the complete orchestra include the youth series, a concert devoted to Mozart, and a performance with the veteran singer/songwriter Michael Martin Murphey, of his acclaimed Sagebrush Symphony.
Among the other performers slated for the season are the Hanneke Cassel Trio, led by the 1997 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion, in their second Hobbs performance; gypsy jazz from Pearl Django; the Glenn Miller Orchestra, whose name-sake leader may be gone but whose big-band sounds endure; and Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, a leading ensemble from Russia.
It’s an impressive lineup worthy of a big city, but thanks to hard work and dedicated support, it’s happening in Hobbs.