Globe-hopping Lerner leads Brazilian orchestra, too

Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra Conductor Linus Lerner will rack up tons of frequent flier miles after accepting a job late last month to lead a state orchestra in Brazil.

Lerner will now commute between Tucson, where he will remain with SASO, Houston, where he is artistic director and conductor of two choruses, and Natal, Brazil, where he will lead the Rio Grande do Norte Symphony Orchestra as its artistic director and conductor.

Natal is in a seaside city about the size of Tucson and its orchestra is sponsored by the government.

“It’s a beautiful place. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil,” said Lerner, who is a native of Brazil.

Lerner returned to Brazil in mid-September to accept the position and lead the orchestra in its first concert of the season. The orchestra performs five concerts a season for the community and five concerts in public schools.

Lerner is from Brazil’s southern coast. He has not worked in the country since moving to the United States 16 years ago.

“For me it’s a big deal because I am returning to Brazil and conducting an orchestra,” said Lerner, 44, who said he was excited about the orchestra’s community outreach. “Every concert we do, we follow up the next day with an educational concert with kids. I’m educating kids in orchestral music.”

Lerner has led the volunteer SASO since the 2008-09 season. In 2009, he became artistic director of the Bayou City Performing Arts in Houston and began commuting to Tucson from Houston.

During a phone interview on Thursday shortly after he returned to Tucson from Brazil, Lerner said he will continue leading all three ensembles at least for the 2012-13 season and has no plans to leave SASO after that.

“Nothing will change for SASO,” he said. “SASO is still growing with me.

“There are still some projects I want to do with them. … There are other tours they want to do, including to Brazil … and Mexico, as well.”

Lerner took SASO to China for a tour in late December 2009 and will return to the country with the orchestra in late December.

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SASO’s Story

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