Desert Vista student 1st violinist to win Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition

Desert Vista High School student Bobae Johnson knows a thing or two about winning a competition, but for her it’s not a sport she’s playing — it’s music.

She’s won the Arizona ASTA (American String Teachers Association) State Competition junior and senior, the Phoenix Youth Symphony Young Musicians Competition Senior Upper Strings Division, she was the strings winner of the AMEA (Arizona Music Educators Association) All-State Solo and Ensemble competition, and recently Johnson became the first violinist to win the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra (SASO).

“I just love music in general, especially getting to play it,” she said. “There are a lot of things you can do with music like orchestra, chamber and solos. There are so many opportunities and they’re all really amazing.”

Through these different competitions Johnson has been able to take advantage of all the different opportunities. She’s performed at Gammage Auditorium during the All-State Festival and at the Musical Instrument Museum as part of the Arizona Musicfest Young Musicians Concert Series. She’s studied at Innsbrook Institute, the Bowdoin International Music Festival and Le Festival Domaine Forget Music Festival. She has also performed in master classes with Elizabeth Wallfisch, Patrice Fontanarosa, the Emerson String Quartet, the Shanghai String Quartet, and Frank Huang.

From the latest win Johnson received $1,000 and a chance to perform with the SASO during three concerts in April.

“I’m really excited to get to play with their orchestra for a concert series,” she said. “This piece has such a cool orchestra part that it’s such a cool experience to play this piece with a professional orchestra.”

Johnson will perform the same piece she played during the competition, Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, III movement.

The Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition is open to any high school student. The students select their own piece to perform for the judges. A prize is given to first, second and third place musicians.

“It’s a chance for us to hear some of what the very talented high schoolers are doing,” said Tim Secomb, SASO vice president. “It’s a chance for their musical development. It’s very fun for us to get completely new people to come and perform with the orchestra. It’s a way for us to learn about what’s going on among other people and for them to learn about us as well.”

The violinist will perform with SASO on Friday, April 10 at Green Valley Presbyterian Church, 2800 S. Camino del Sol in Green Valley; Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke and on Sunday, April 12 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo Del Norte in northwest Tucson.

Johnson has been playing the violin for six years and currently studies with Dr. Jonathan Swartz at Arizona State University.

Johnson’s advice to other musicians is to give it all you’ve got.

“Always go for it,” she said. “The worst that can happen is you don’t win. Winning and losing isn’t what it’s about. You can get a lot more experience from competition. I feel like that’s more important than anything else. Getting to share your music with other people is so great.”

For more information on SASO and upcoming performances, visit

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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 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 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.
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.