SASO Remembers Dorothy Dyer Vanek

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra remembers Dorothy Vanek, Principal Benefactor and longtime supporter, who passed away peacefully on March 25, 2020.

Dorothy Dyer Vanek

Dorothy Vanek’s legacy of arts philanthropy has been a pivotal part SASO’s history, and we will greatly miss seeing her in the front row at each concert. Mrs. Vanek began supporting the volunteer orchestra in 2005. Shortly thereafter she became the orchestra’s Season Sponsor, continuing in this role for thirteen consecutive seasons.

In 2013, the orchestra’s concerto competition for young musicians was renamed the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition in honor of her advocacy of the arts. With her sponsorship for the last eight years, it continues to be a leading youth classical music competition in the area, resulting in numerous awards to and performances by talented young artists.

Dorothy Vanek underwrote SASO’s two commercially-released recordings: A recording of new American Viola Concertos on the Naxos label, and Celebration!, which features the music of Tucson composers. Mrs. Vanek was also the lead sponsor of SASO’s tours to China and Brazil, and was a major sponsor of the San Luis Potosí Opera Festival in Mexico, in which SASO has performed for the past four years.

Mrs. Vanek’s love of the arts began as a child attending orchestral and opera performances and was strengthened by her art studies in college. Determined to see music and arts available to children in the future, she dedicated much of her life to arts advocacy. Mrs. Vanek was a longtime supporter of local arts organizations. She not only made generous financial contributions, but also dedicated many volunteer hours to arts projects and administrative tasks. In addition, Mrs. Vanek volunteered with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and was state president of Epsilon Sigma Alpha International. Her own artistic outlets included needlepoint and playing the organ and piano.

In 2010, Mrs. Vanek received an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts degree from the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. She was also awarded the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Southern Arizona chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

SASO remembers her fondly and recognizes the amazing impact she had in making the orchestra the thriving, vital community resource it is today.

SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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 first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.