Saxophonist returns to Tucson, this time with Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is pulling out the stops as it heads into the homestretch of the 2016-17 season.

In three performances this weekend, audiences will experience:

  • A veteran and celebrated saxophonist performing a significant work in the limited saxophone solo repertoire.
  • A young pianist who took top honors in the orchestra’s 2017 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition play a movement of a major work.
  • A pair of solo vocalists and the orchestra’s chorus performing Fauré’s Requiem that focuses on faith in the face of death.
A little Russian, a little French — and a little Tucson with the premiere of Tucson composer Richard White’s Fantasy on the Radetzky March, written to remember longtime SASO benefactor Irving J. Olson. Olson, who died in October at 102, once led SASO in a performance of the original Radetzky.

This weekend marks the fourth Tucson concert for Ashu, who has played three other concerts with Arizona Friends of Chamber Music back in the mid-2000s. A 2008 Friends concert included the world-premiere of Ellen Zwellick’s Quintet for Saxophone and String Quartet, which Arizona Friends commissioned with Ashu in mind and which he and the Pacifica Quartet premiered.

Since that first performance, it’s has been played a number of times including in Chicago and Detroit.

“Any time a composer writes you a piece or dedicates a piece for you it’s an honor and a thrill,” Ashu said, speaking from his Chicago home last week. “Her piece is very unique and very identifiable and she’s a fantastic composer. It’s been the perfect combination for this piece to take off as it has.”

This weekend Ashu will perform Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s rarely played, fast-paced Saxophone Concerto, a piece Ashu described as “one of the really great masterpieces and I think one of the best pieces” for saxophone.

“It’s melancholy and often triumphant. I think it’s a fantastic work,” said Ashu, who grew up in Texas and said he loves coming to Tucson. “It’s one of the first places I gave a recital and every time I’ve come back, the audiences have been warm and welcoming. It’s really a special place for me.”

Pianist Nicholas Turner, 17, also will make his SASO as the winner of the 2017 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the orchestra. In addition to the $1,000 cash prize, Nicholas, who is home-schooled and lives in Vail, will perform the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, which he performed in the competition.

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."