Founded in 1979, the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a passion for music. The orchestra presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical gems.
The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra Association seeks to nurture and inspire audiences and artists alike through the joy of classical music. Serving our Southern Arizona community as well as connecting to the international music community at large, we create unique, vibrant and accessible experiences that celebrate the tradition and future of classical music in its many forms.
We invite you to help our orchestra grow. We welcome musicians, patrons, volunteers, donors and board advisors.
Our story began in 1979, in a trailer in Wilcox when founders Bill and Barbara Chinworth and Scott Braucher were drafting the bylaws for a new orchestra. They chose the name Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, intending for the organization to be known as “the musicians’ orchestra.” Incorporation papers were filed and the orchestra began traveling to Casa Grande, Green Valley, Nogales and other venues in Southern Arizona. SASO’s first conductor was newly retired University of Arizona orchestra director Henry Johnson and the orchestra made their debut on October 28. The premiere season also featured pianist and associate conductor Rico Saccani, who went on to conduct the Metropolitan Opera and the Budapest Philharmonic.
As the orchestra grew through the 1980s, music director Alan Schultz established a season format that included a large joint concert each year with the Tucson Masterworks Chorale. This ambitious spirit led to more collaborations over the years with schools, churches and other arts groups. A major concern was to find a performance venue that SASO could call home. We aimed for the Temple of Music and Art prior to its renovation—only to be locked out the day of our dress rehearsal. The City of Tucson condemned the building and the orchestra was forced to cancel the concert. A number of highly regarded composers living in Tucson—Camil Van Hulse, Branson Smith, Ken LaFave and Jack Lee come to mind—were strong supporters of SASO and over the years we played several of their works.
SASO continued expanding collaborations into the new decade, performing at TCC Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers. The orchestra continued to try out new venues, making our debut in Saddlebrooke in 1995 to a sold out crowd. We have returned every season since!
The orchestra also encountered many challenges during these “awkward teenage years”. Alan Schultz retired, there was competition for players from new orchestras and the vision for the orchestra was changing. Presidents Donna Kreutz and Sam Kreiling refocused on recruiting musicians, building audiences and choosing guest artists and conductors to challenge our musical skills. One of those guest conductors was Giorgi Jordania from Soviet Georgia, who ushered in a new era of musicians from across the globe who would perform with SASO.
SASO secured the first-ever season sponsor for its concerts: Dorothy Vanek. A longtime supporter of the Arts, Mrs. Vanek not only made generous financial contributions, but also dedicated many volunteer hours to arts projects and administrative tasks. SASO deepened our bonds in the community and we grew with many new players, orchestra family members and volunteers.
In 2008, after a long and comprehensive search for a new music director, reviewing scores of applicants and inviting finalists to conduct the orchestra, Linus Lerner was chosen as SASO’s fifth music director. A graduate of UofA and native of Brazil, Linus began to lead the orchestra into a new era of musical exploration and continues to move the orchestra forward in quality, community outreach and respect. In only a few years time, he brought the orchestra on tours to China, Brazil, and Mexico, recorded and released 2 CDs, and has welcomed countless international guest artists to perform with the orchestra.
Help us write the next chapter of our community orchestra by joining as a musician, attending a concert, or supporting us today on Arizona Gives Day.
On the Podium
- Henry Johnson, Founding Music Director 1979-1980
- Rico Saccani, Associate Conductor 1979-1980
- Alan Schultz, Music Director 1980-1995
- Margaret Faddick, Assistant Conductor 1990-1995
- Dennis Bourret, Guest Conductor 1995-1996
- Warren Cohen, Music Director 1996-2005
- Adam Boyles, Music Director 2005-2008
- Martin Majkut, Rehearsal Conductor 2007-2008
- Linus Lerner, Music Director 2008-present
Current Musicians Who Played Inaugural Season
- Marie Hill
- Paula Klein
- Donna Bockius Kreutz
- Linda Zello McCotter
Arizona Composers Featured
- Warren Cohen
- Richard Faith
- Pete Fine
- Brian Goodall
- Jack Lee
- Robert McBride
- Robert Muczynski
- Alan F. Schultz
- Branson Smith
- Bruce Stoller
- Dallas Uhrig
- Camil Van Hulse
- Jay Vosk
- Richard White