In harmony with health, Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra returns to the stage this weekend

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The sounds of the symphony are returning to the stage this weekend. Seven months after their last in-person concert, the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra (SASO) is taking small steps towards live performance.

“I think it was March 16th, if I remember, or the 15th; somewhere in there,” said Linus Lerner, SASO’s Artistic Director. “We were the last ones to perform before the pandemic.”

After his grand plans for 2020 fell flat, Lerner decided the show must go on.

“Sometimes crisis means opportunity,” he said.

SASO has been holding virtual concerts, including one to honor health care workers.

“It’s not the same,” said Lerner. “I mean, I have seen so many – I have done so many things online. It’s not the same. The feeling, the socializing with people, meeting people, hearing … there’s absolutely no way you can substitute that with a virtual performance.”

So, in accordance with Pima County’s new health guidelines for live events, SASO will be performing without an audience at the DesertView Performing Arts Center in Saddlebrook on Saturday, and with an audience at the Catalyst inside of the Tucson Mall on Sunday.

“With the amount of 50 people allowed because we have mathematicians in our orchestra that calculate the right distance,” Lerner said.

In harmony with health, masks will be required for both performers and guests. The 70-piece orchestra is also downsizing to 17 strings.

“I think it gives people hope that things are improving and getting better,” said Sherry Jameson, the President of SASO. “I think all this time people have just thought, ‘Everything is just going to go down the toilet’. I think they are just so happy, people really miss the music!”

The goal of the concert, called “Serenading with SASO”, is to strike a chord with the audience.

“Music is health,” said Lerner. “That’s what we want to do this weekend; lift their souls.”

Tickets are still available for Sunday’s concert. For more information, click HERE.

If you’re not quite ready for socially-distanced gatherings but are starving for classical music, both concerts will be streamed online for free.

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SASO’s Story

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.
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."
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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