James Reel Joins SASO as Executive Director

TUCSON, AZ – The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra has appointed James Reel as its first-ever executive director. Reel is best known as Arizona Public Media’s classical music director and weekday morning announcer for KUAT-FM.

Long involved in the Tucson arts community, Reel also serves as executive director of Chamber Music Plus and is president of Winding Road Theater Ensemble.

Under the direction of Music Director Linus Lerner, the orchestra continues to have ambitious plans. SASO leaves Dec. 26 for a four-city performance tour in China. The first tour was three years ago, including a final concert in Beijing. SASO also is planning for performances in Mexico in 2013.

Founded in 1979, the orchestra has grown steadily, recruiting talented players and international soloists while expanding its repertoire. The orchestra presents five pairs of concerts per season, including world premieres, new commissions, seldom-performed treasures and classical favorites. This season and next each concert features a work by a Tucson composer, in preparation for the orchestra’s first professional CD release.

Reel is a contributing editor to Strings magazine, and wrote for the All Music Guide, among other venues. He frequently gives pre-performance talks for various arts organizations. He’s a former arts editor and theater critic for the Tucson Weekly and, before that, arts and entertainment editor and music critic for the Arizona Daily Star.

“This is a milestone for the orchestra. We are delighted that James has agreed to serve as our executive director and share his expertise and vision. SASO is a valuable community resource that will continue to grow and thrive under his leadership,” said Dee Schroer, SASO board president.

SASO was established with a goal of uniting performers and audiences through a passion for music. This was evident to Orhan Salliel, considered Turkey’s most prominent young conductor and composer. After conducting the most recent SASO concert, he told the orchestra, “I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone’s heart. It was something I do not feel often in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it and try to build everything from this power of love for music.”

For more information on SASO, visit www.sasomusic.org or call 308-6226.

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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