SASO Presents Mahler, Viola Concerto, Aria by Tucson Artists

TUCSON, AZ – Mahler’s romantic fourth symphony, a viola concerto by Hindemith and an aria from the new opera Rappaccini’s Daughter are highlights of the next Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra concerts on Feb. 23 and 24.

Award-winning virtuoso Hong-Mei Xiao is the soloist for Paul Hindemith’s Viola Concerto Der Schwanendreher. This unique chamber work is scored for a sizable ensemble of wind instruments plus cellos and basses — but no violins or violas.

Hindemith, himself a violist as well as composer and conductor, performed the world premiere of this concerto in Berlin in 1927 and introduced it to American audiences in Boston in 1935. Soloist Xiao performs throughout the world and has released critically acclaimed recordings. A native of China and graduate of Shanghai Conservatory, she is associate professor of music at the University of Arizona. She’s collaborated with renowned artists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinists Joseph Silverstein and Cho- Liang Lin.

Soprano Christi Amonson is featured in the first performance of the aria “If Life Were As It Seems” from the opera Rappaccini’s Daughter by Tucson composer Richard White and librettist Terry Quinn. She’s joined by a female quartet. Amonson also is the soloist for the final movement of the Mahler. She’s performed with SASO on numerous occasions, including its first tour of China.

White is a violist with SASO as well as a violinist, guitarist and pianist. He’s published symphonies concertos, sonatas, quintets and solo works, plus numerous songs and choral compositions. Rappaccini’s Daughter is his third of seven operas. It’s a re-telling of a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne about a medical researcher in 18th century Padua who grows a garden of poisonous plants and brings up his daughter to tend the plants. Eventually she becomes resistant to the poisons, and, as a result, becomes poisonous to others.

Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia when it was still part of the Austrian Empire and attended the Vienna Conservatory and Vienna University. Mahler was primarily a conductor much of his career. His music is more appreciated today than in his own time. The Symphony No. 4 in G major is perhaps his most popular. Lightly scored and playful, it opens with sleigh bells, includes a devilish violin solo and ends with a child’s song about heaven, sung by Amonson.

This program will be performed twice – Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the DesertView Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Dr. in SaddleBrooke – and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte. At the St. Andrews concert, tickets are complimentary students age 17or younger.

Tickets to the SaddleBrooke concert are $21 in advance or $23 at the door. Order them online at http://tickets/saddlebrooketwo.com or call 825-2818.

Tickets to the St. Andrews concert are $20 in advance or at the door. Order online at www.sasomusic.org or call 308-6226.

The SASO season continues with two more programs:

  • Bruce Stoller’s Open Spaces Suite will be presented April 6 and 7. Stoller is also a pianist, flute maker and teacher. That program also features Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture and Hovhaness’ And God Created Great Whales. Brazilian flutist James Strauss is featured in Glen Roger Davis’ Tattoo Notes and Hanson’s Serenade, Opus 35. Strauss is one of the last “disciples” of renowned French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, who called Strauss “an authentic Latin representative of the French school of flute playing.” This program also will feature the winner of the SASO Youth Competition.
  • The SASO season concludes May 18 and 19 with the premiere of Pete Fine’s symphonic work Landscapes, inspired by a 2011 trip through Rocky Mountain National Park. Also a guitarist and sitar player, he wrote Concerto for Electric Guitar which premiered in 1999. The program also features Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor with Chilean soloist Francisca Mendoza and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor.

Founded in 1979, SASO 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 favorites. The orchestra just returned from its second performance tour of China. For more information, visit www.sasomusic.org or call 308-6226.

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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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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