Rebecca Shiao Will Perform Prokofiev with SASO

By Punch Howarth

Rebecca ShiaoRebecca Shiao is this year’s winner of the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition and will play the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra on April 5 and 6. Ms. Shiao is a 17-year-old senior at Catalina Foothills High School and is a very talented student of Susan Chu. Second-place winner was Carissa Powe, violin, and the third prize was won by Claire Thai, harp.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) died on March 5, and 50 minutes later Josef Stalin died of the same cerebral hemorrhage diagnosis as Prokofiev. Because of this coincidence, news of Prokofiev’s death was delayed several days. Prokofiev is arguably one of the three greatest Russian composers of the 20th century, along with Igor Stravinsky and Dimitri Shostakovich. Prokofiev was the favorite Russian composer of this writer. His major works include seven symphonies, nine concertos, eight suites, seven ballets and five operas. Of his five piano concertos, the Third has been most popular. Starting with sketches in Russia, it took several years of trial and
error prior to completion at Etretat in Normandy, France. Prokofiev was the soloist at the premiere in December, 1921 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock, just two weeks apart from the premiere of his opera The Love for Three Oranges, also in Chicago. Like Beethoven and Liszt, Prokofiev was an outstanding piano artist.

The keys of the movement are C major, its relative A minor, and C minor. The music is tonal and lyrical but with typical snippets of dissonance and abrupt changes, and it follows sonata form pretty much. Its inclusion of castanets and tambourine are unusual in a concerto. There is not space in an article like this to explain in detail the work’s structure, as all his big compositions are complex. The soloist and orchestra are equal partners, and the soloist will utilize the entire length of the keyboard at times. The music will be tranquil, explosive and dramatic, and is a real challenge for the 17-year-old Rebecca Shiao.

Conducted by Linus Lerner, the concert will be performed at SaddleBrooke at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 5 at the DesertView Performing Arts Center, and on Sunday, April 6 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson. Also on this program will be Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major of Liszt with Pervez Mody as soloist, and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. This concert will have broad audience appeal, as all selections are well known and popular.

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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."
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 first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
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.
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.