Program Notes for Our May, 2014 Concerts

By Tim Secomb

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Festive Overture in 1947 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. First performed in 1954, it is unusual among Shostakovich’s works for its gaiety and lack of introspection. Perhaps the composer consciously wrote in this populist style to make fun of the artistic censorship imposed on him in the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the result was a highly effective musical composition. In 1962, the composer included it in the only public concert that he ever conducted.

The Spanish composer and virtuoso pianist Joaquín Rodrigo almost completely lost his sight after contracting diphtheria at the age of three. He wrote his compositions in Braille, which was transcribed for publication. Although he is best known for his guitar music, he never mastered the guitar himself. His most famous work, the Concierto de Aranjuez was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort palace and gardens built by Philip II in the last half of the 16th century and rebuilt in the middle of the 18th century by Ferdinand VI. Rodrigo described the concerto as capturing “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” in the gardens of Aranjuez. The central movement is one of the most recognizable in 20th-century classical music, featuring the interplay of guitar with English horn. The final movement is based on a single thematic idea which is first presented by the guitar and appears several times in different keys and varied orchestration. The concerto ends somewhat unexpectedly with a rapid descending pianissimo figure.

The final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, the Symphony No. 9, occupies a unique position in the repertoire of classical music. It was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony, and it is often known as the “Choral Symphony.” Its vast scope redefined the possibilities of the symphonic form. Ever since its premiere in Vienna on May 7, 1824, any performance has been a special event. Although the symphony was written towards the end of the composer’s life, often referred to as Beethoven’s “late period,” it brings together influences from throughout his life, including a fascination since his boyhood with the work of the writer and poet Friedrich Schiller. It shows a close relationship to Beethoven’s Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op. 80, which was composed years earlier in 1808.

Commentator Michael Steinberg writes: “The Ninth Symphony traces a path from darkness to light.” In the opening of the first movement, snatches of a theme emerge from an indistinct murmuring, gradually gathering coherence and force, and building into a large and complex structure, with a rich array of thematic material.   Next comes the scherzo, in which a few brief rhythmic and melodic elements are developed into an extensive and relentlessly driven movement. The third, slow movement is a complete contrast, with sublime themes developed and varied within an overall mood of serenity. Now the symphony reaches a crossroads, and seems to lose its way for a while. After a terrifying fanfare, the cellos and basses protest with a dramatic theme in the style of an operatic recitative. The orchestra offers brief snatches from each of the first three movements, and each is rejected by the low strings. Finally the woodwinds hint at something quite different, simpler and gentler. The low strings accept this suggestion, and state the famous “Ode to Joy” theme, which is taken up by the rest of the orchestra, and eventually by the vocal soloists and the chorus. The movement unfolds as a set of variations on this theme, on a grand scale, carrying the symphony to a triumphant conclusion.

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."