Welcome to SASO!

Founded in 1979, the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a passion for music. The orchestra presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical gems. The full orchestra will be back in action April 10 through 12 with an offbeat but engaging program including Aram Khachaturian’s fun Masquerade Suite, our own Michael Kiefer’s touching Psalm 22 for orchestra, the winner of the 2015 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition—Bobae Johnson from Phoenix—performing the last movement of the Saint-Saëns Third Violin Concerto, and Bohuslav Martinu’s lyrical Rhapsody-Concerto featuring …

Hong-Mei Xiaohong-mei xiao

Hong-Mei Xiao was the first-prize winner of the Geneva International Music Competition. Her extraordinary artistry and brilliant virtuoso technique have gained accolades from critics across the globe. The Geneva Tribune heralded her performance as “overwhelmingly masterful.” The Sunday Telegraph praised her recording as “extraordinary technically and expressively,” and the Ha’aretz declared, “The soloist Hong-Mei Xiao was wondrous.”

A recipient of the coveted Patek Philippe Grand Prize, Hong-Mei Xiao has made an international career as a soloist with performances in major concert halls and with orchestras of the greatest distinction throughout the world. She was honored as a United States Artistic Ambassador. She is also the featured soloist in the Naoxs world-premiere recording of the original and revised versions of the Bartók Viola Concerto, which has won rave reviews and international critical acclaim since its release. Recent activities include making a CD recording of viola works by Walton, Vaughan Williams and Bax with the Budapest Symphony, recital appearances, and serving as an adjudicator at the 2013 Lionel Tertis International Viola Festival and Competition in the United Kingdom. Her CD of the complete works for viola and orchestra by Ernest Bloch, which features her own transcription of the Baal Shem Suite, was released in June 2013 by Naxos.

Born into a musical family in China, Ms. Xiao began her violin study with her father, Xiao Heng, a well-known composer. During the years of her musical training, she was frequently engaged in public performances in China. After graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory with highest honors, she was distinguished as the only musician in Asia to receive the Asian Cultural Council Award. She completed her musical training in the United States with violist John Graham and received her Master of Music degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Ms. Xiao is currently on the faculty at the University of Arizona School of Music. Previously she was a faculty member at the University of Michigan. She has also served as the principal violist of the Minnesota Orchestra, and has taught at the Eastman School of Music as a visiting professor.

Bobae Johnson

The 15-year-old winner of SASO’s 2015 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition, Bobae Johnson began studying violin seven years ago. She is co-concertmaster of the Phoenix Youth Symphony. She has also won the 2012 Phoenix Youth Symphony Concerto Competition, the grand prize and first place in the 2012 Four Seasons Orchestra Bach Competition and the 2012 Arizona ASTA State Junior Solo Competition. She has attended the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine and the Innsbrook Institute Summer Music Academy and Festival in Missouri. In 2014 she soloed with the Musica Nova Orchestra in Phoenix. Bobae has played in the MusicaNova’s Young Artists series the past two years and will debut with the MusicaNova Orchestra in November 2015. This summer, she will attend Madeline Island Music Camp with a full scholarship and Domaine Forget Music Festival with a partial scholarship.

Linus Lerner, DMA

linusPraised for bringing charismatic and passionate energies to music performances, Linus Lerner has conducted orchestras, operas, choruses and instrumental groups around the world. He’s conducted in Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Spain and the United States.

Lerner is music director of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. He also serves as clinician and vocal coach here and abroad.

He’s led SASO on two tours of China. He’s also guest conducted the Hunan Symphony Orchestra, Fuzhou Symphony Orchestra, National Film and Radio Orchestra and Qingdao Symphony Orchestra, all in China.

Other engagements include the Orchestra Nacional de Valles in Spain, the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras of Porto Alegre and the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, the International Opera Workshop in Bulgaria and Czech Republic, the Solistas Ensamble del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Primavera Symphony in Mexico.

Previously Lerner served as artistic director of Bayou City Performing Arts in Houston, and associate conductor for Opera in the Ozarks, Tallahassee Youth Symphony Orchestra and the University of Arizona Philharmonic. Lerner’s passion for music transcends cultural boundaries. Throughout his travels, he finds that music truly is the international language.

Our First CD Is Available Now!

SASO "Celebration!" CD

Celebration! is SASO’s new CD, presenting attractive music by Tucson composers Pete Fine, Bruce Stoller, Jay Vosk, Richard White, Brian Goodall and A.F. Schultz. Linus Lerner conducts the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra in pieces that are alternately exciting, soothing, engaging and moving.

This is the only disc where you’ll find such intriguing music as Bruce Stoller’s Open Spaces for yucca shakuhachi flute (played by the composer) and orchestra, and Richard White’s tender For Patte—A Simple Song, written in memory of a beloved longtime SASO musician.

Online, each disc costs $18.50, including shipping and handling. Support SASO and encounter captivating new music by our own composers!

Buy CD

Benefit SASO via the 2015 Ford Mustang Raffle!

With your $25 contribution (or five tickets for $100), you could win a 2015 Ford Mustang 50th Anniversary Edition through this year’s Millions for Tucson raffle. The best part is that 100% of your contribution will support the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra. The drawing will be held Nov. 13, 2015. You may purchase your tickets online through Oct. 31.

Buy Raffle Tickets

Support Us

Your support helps SASO continue to explore the world of music with our audiences.


Special Thanks to our 2014-15 Season Sponsor
Dorothy Vanek


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SASO’s Story

Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.
Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.