Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra debuts chorus, closes season with a Beethoven first

Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will debut its SASO Chorus this weekend in a season finale that people will likely still be talking about when the volunteer orchestra picks up next season.

The orchestra has assembled a volunteer chorus of 50 voices — vocalists moonlighting from other community and professional choirs and church ensembles — for its first-ever performance of Beethoven’s seminal Ninth Symphony. Before the Ninth, no composer had dared to cast a choir in a leading role of a symphony.

“It is considered still the best symphony ever written,” said SASO Conductor and Artistic Director Linus Lerner, who called it a “monster of all symphonies” that often serves as a marker of a professional career. “There is the before Beethoven’s Ninth and the after Beethoven’s Ninth.”

“It’s really a massive piece from every way you look at it both technically and the scale of it,” said longtime SASO violist Tim Secomb. “It is really very significant as far as I’m concerned. We’ve done all of the Beethoven Symphonies, but not the No. 9. It is a major undertaking to put it on.”

“It just feels like climbing a mountain or something,” added Secomb, who has played with SASO 33 years. “There’s clichés about it but I’m discovering them for myself. That’s probably why we’ve never done it before.”

The newly christened SASO Chorus will share the stage with 70 instrumentalists and four guest vocal soloists from Mexico. The soloists were winners of the 2013 Oaxaca Opera Festival, which Lerner founded and directs in Oaxaca, Mexico. SASO was part of last August’s inaugural festival and will return this year, Lerner said.

“The idea we are developing is that we will have a chorus we can call on for some seasons,” said Secomb, who also has served for years on SASO’s board.

This weekend’s concerts marks the first time either Lerner or Secomb have ever performed the Ninth, which Lerner paired with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. The program also includes Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez featuring Brazilian guitarist Roberto Capocchi.

“It’s going to be a hard program to top with these three pieces together,” Lerner said.

The orchestra will perform the concert three times this weekend including on Monday night at Pima Community College. It also will release its debut CD, a compilation of works composed by Tucsonans that the orchestra played throughout the season.

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