Phoenix Violinist Wins Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition

Fifteen-year-old violinist Bobae Johnson won the 2015 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the $1,000 cash prize, she was invited to solo with the orchestra on April 10, 11 and 12.

Johnson will play the third movement of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3. She attends Desert Vista High School in Phoenix and studies with Jonathan Swartz, professor of violin at Arizona State University. She is the first violinist to win the SASO youth competition.

She began studying violin seven years ago. She is co-concertmaster of the Phoenix Youth Symphony. She’s also won the 2012 Phoenix Youth Symphony Concerto Competition, the grand prize and first place in the 2012 Four Seasons Orchestra Bach Competition and the 2012 Arizona ASTA State Junior Solo Competition. She has attended the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine and the Innsbrook Institute Summer Music Academy and Festival in Missouri. In 2014 she soloed with the Musica Nova Orchestra in Phoenix. Bobae has played in the MusicaNova’s Young Artists series the past two years and will debut with the MusicaNova Orchestra in November 2015. This summer, she will attend Madeline Island Music Camp with a full scholarship and Domaine Forget Music Festival with a partial scholarship.

Violinist Nicole Skaggs won the $500 second-place prize and oboist Kip Zimmerman won the $250 third-place prize.

Skaggs, 15, is a sophomore at Canyon del Oro High School and studies with David Rife, assistant concertmaster of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. She is concertmaster of the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra. Zimmerman, 16, is a sophomore at University High School and studies with former University of Arizona professor Neil Tatman. He’s a member of the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra.

The SASO concerto competition is designed to recognize and support outstanding young high school musicians, encouraging them to polish performance skills and build real-life experience. It is named in honor of longtime arts patron Dorothy Vanek, who is SASO’s season sponsor for the eighth consecutive year.

“Every year we are impressed with the talent these young musicians demonstrate in their performances in the competition. Clearly there are many high-caliber young players in our state who share a passion for music,” said SASO Vice President Tim Secomb. “Selecting the winners was a real challenge for the judges.”

Johnson (whose first name is pronounced boh-bay) will perform with SASO on Friday, April 10 at Green Valley Presbyterian Church at 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.

The SASO youth concerto competition is open to Arizona high school students who play any orchestral instrument, including piano. Previous first-place winners are cellist Benjamin Nead, pianist Joyce Yang, cellist Sara Page, cellist Nicholas Mariscal and pianist Rebecca Shiao. All are from Tucson except Yang, who lives in Phoenix.


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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.