2015–16 program notes: Gould, Rachmaninov, Dvořák

Here are the program notes for the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra’s concerts on Jan. 31 and Feb. 5–6, 2016. Get your tickets here.

morton-gouldAmerican composer Morton Gould was recognized for his musical abilities at an early age, and had his first composition published at the age of six. During his long career, he did much to bridge classical and popular idioms in music. When he was asked in 1942 for a salute to the United States, he wrote American Salute, consisting of orchestral variations on the song When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Reportedly written overnight, with copyists standing by, it has since become a staple of the patriotic repertoire. Much later the composer said “It was years before I knew that it was a classic setting. What amazes me now is that critics say it is a minor masterpiece, a gem. To me, it was just a setting. I was doing a million of those things.”

RachmaninovThe Piano Concerto No. 2 of Sergei Rachmaninov is one of the most popular of all concertos. Its sumptuous harmonies and passionate melodies have immediate appeal, but give no hint of the extraordinary circumstances under which it was composed. In January of 1900, Rachmaninov, then in his twenties, was in a state of deep depression. He went to a prominent neurologist, Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who was also a good amateur cellist. The composer later wrote: “I heard daily the same formula as I lay half asleep in Dr. Dahl’s study … You will start to write your concerto … You will compose with the greatest of ease … The concerto will be of excellent quality.” Dr. Dahl’s treatment was evidently a great success, and Rachmaninov completed the concerto early in 1901, with a dedication to Dr. Dahl. In the decades that followed that pivotal time, Rachmaninov’s talents flowered as a virtuoso pianist, teacher and composer.

dvorak1In 1892, Antonin Dvořák came to America to take up a two-year appointment as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. His Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), written during that period, represents his response to the new surroundings and spirit that he found. Dvořák intended to write a piece based on American folk themes, particularly Negro spirituals, and this influence is apparent, including a reference to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot in the first movement. However, the influence of folk music from the composer’s native Bohemia is just as evident. Regardless of its origins, the symphony conveys feelings of the exuberance, the space, and the infinite possibility of the young American nation. After a slow and dramatic introduction, the first movement is fast and rhythmical. The second movement contains a beautiful (and famous) theme played initially by the English horn. The lively third and fourth movements are more clearly Bohemian in flavor. At the first performance in New York in 1893, the New World Symphony was an immediate success, perhaps partly because its syncopated rhythms echoed the ragtime music that was all the rage then, but also because of its freshness, vitality and melodic beauty.

– Tim Secomb

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."