Lush, haunting and hummable melodies infuse the next program of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 31 in northwest Tucson, Feb. 5 in Green Valley and Feb. 6 in SaddleBrooke.
Three fabulously famous classics by Morton Gould, Sergei Rachmaninov and Antonín Dvořák are woven with Old-World folk tunes, a patriotic Civil War anthem and familiar-to-the-ear original themes that inspired popular songs. And all have ties to America.
The SASO concert opens with Gould’s rapid-fire American Salute, written in 1942 as the United States entered World War II. This series of variations is based on the Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” The evocative work was composed in one day and performed the next.
Rachmaninov wrote his pivotal Piano Concerto No. 2 following a three-year depression during which he could no longer compose. He emerged in 1900 with this lush Romantic work now revered as the most popular piano concerto ever written. The imposing and prodigious Russian pianist stood 6 foot 6 and toured constantly, performing this concerto and other works for audiences the world over. Enduring themes from this concerto can be heard in the soundtracks of numerous films, in Frank Sinatra hits, Eric Carmen’s 1975 ballad “All By Myself” and Muse’s 2001 “Space Dementia.”
Rachmaninov’s early life was tumultuous. His aristocratic parents went bankrupt, then regained their wealth only to lose it during the Russian revolution. Rachmaninov was conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre before fleeing to Denmark with little more than a box of sheet music. He ultimately emigrated to the United States where his success allowed him to drive fast cars and maintain homes in Beverly Hills, New York and Switzerland.
Despite the joyful nature of his music, writers have said it “exudes the feelings of a man unwillingly divorced from his past.” Rachmaninov became a U.S. citizen in 1943, the year he died.
SASO’s own Sheryll McManus is the piano soloist. For more than 20 years she was a member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and performed as soloist with other orchestras and chamber ensembles. She taught privately and many of her students won prizes in competitions. McManus began piano lessons at age 4 and eventually completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin Conservatory and graduate degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Before moving to Tucson in 2012, she lived in a historic mansion once owned by Cole Porter and participated in annual Cole Porter Festivals. She also plays violin with SASO.
Dvořák began composing in his teens and won several prizes in competitions judged by Johannes Brahms, who later became his champion. Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, known as “From the New World,” was written while he was serving as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York and summering in Spillville, Iowa, a small community of fellow Bohemians. Nostalgic for his homeland, he incorporated Bohemian folk tunes in this symphony.
Dvořák was impressed with the wide open spaces of the New World and influenced by what he saw as purely American music, including that of Native Americans and African Americans. Before the premiere in 1893, he told the New York Herald, “I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral color.” A flute solo references “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in the first movement but the melody that seems so familiar in the second movement was his alone. The song “Goin’ Home,” written in 1922 by a student of Dvořák, uses that theme. When Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong set off to walk on the moon, he took a recording of this symphony in homage to America as the New World.
Music Director Linus Lerner conducts. Philanthropist, artist and musician Dorothy Vanek is season sponsor, for the ninth consecutive year.
The first SASO performance of this program will be Sunday, Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte in northwest Tucson. Individual tickets are $23 for adults and complimentary for age 17 and under. Order online at www.sasomusic.org, call 308-6226 or purchase at the door. This concert is sponsored by Carole and Jerry Levine.
The second performance will be Friday evening Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Valley Presbyterian Church at 2800 S. Camino del Sol in Green Valley. This concert is sponsored in part by Country Fair White Elephant. Individual tickets are $23 in advance or at the door. Order online at www.sasomusic.org or call 308-6226. Mini-season tickets are available for this Green Valley performance and the next concert program there on April 1. The two shows together are $35—a savings of $11.
The final performance of this program will be Saturday Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the SaddleBrooke Desert View Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Dr. in SaddleBrooke, north of the town of Catalina. Tickets are $24 in advance or $25 at the door. They can be ordered online at http://tickets.saddlebrooketwo.com or by calling 825-2818. This concert is sponsored by Beatrice Simpson.
Maestro Lerner has conducted around the world and serves as music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte and the Gramado In Concert International Music Festival in Brazil. SASO musicians will perform there later in February. SASO previously toured China twice and performed three times at the Oaxaca Opera Festival in Mexico.
Two more SASO programs remain this season:
- Christi Amonson and Larry Leung return to solo with SASO on April 1, 2 and 3. Soprano Amonson sings Whitacre’s Goodnight Moon. Leung performs He Zhanhao’s Eternal Regret of Lin’An on a traditional Chinese guzheng. The program also features the winner of the annual Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto competition sponsored by SASO and Bruckner’s Te Deum with the SASO Chorus and soloists.
- The season concludes May 7 and 8 with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Barber’s Violin Concerto featuring Australian-born soloist Emily Sun and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.
SASO’s first professional CD is called Celebration! and showcases the diverse musical range of six Tucson composers. The next recording will feature viola concertos by American composers Amanda Harberg and Max Wolpert performed by Brett Deubner. He joins SASO at the festival in Brazil.
This orchestra is a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a passion for music. Founded in 1979, SASO presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical favorites. For more information call 308-6226 or visit www.sasomusic.org.