SASO Features Violist Hong-Mei Xiao in Concerts April 10-12

TUCSON, AZ – Internationally acclaimed violist Hong-Mei Xiao returns to solo with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra in a program that also includes Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite and the premiere of Michael Kiefer’s Psalm 22.

She will perform the two-movement Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra written by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů while living in New York after fleeing Paris during the German invasion. The work is known for lyrical melodies derived from the Bohemian and Moravian folk songs of his homeland. It premiered in 1953.

Xiao began her musical studies with her father, a well-known composer in China. After graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory, she came to the United States and completed a master’s degree at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She won first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition and the coveted Patek Philippe Grand Prize. Xiao is associate professor of music at the University of Arizona and previously taught at the University of Michigan.

Her recording of the world premiere of both the original and newly revised versions of the Bartók Viola Concerto with the Budapest Philharmonic received international critical acclaim. Her recording of Frank Martin’s Ballade for Viola and Orchestra has been broadcast on more than 500 radio stations worldwide. Her latest CD is the complete works for viola and orchestra by Ernest Bloch. She’s performed extensively around the world, including the premiere of Alfred Schnittke’s Viola Concerto with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. She last soloed with SASO in 2013.

The program also features the lush, lively and mournful music of the Masquerade Suite composed by Aram Khachaturian in 1941 and based on a tragic play by Mikhail Lermontov in which a woman is killed by her husband over a false accusation of infidelity.

Kiefer, SASO’s principal trumpet, wrote Psalm 22 while struggling with his faith after the loss of a child. The piece moves from sorrow to fury to calm contentment.

The concert also features the winner of the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition. Bobae Johnson of Phoenix will perform the third movement of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3. She is the first violinist to win this competition. Johnson has played for seven years and is co-concertmaster of the Phoenix Youth Symphony. She won the 2012 Phoenix Youth Symphony Concerto Competition and several other major awards. She will debut with the MusicaNova Orchestra in Phoenix in November 2015.

SASO Music Director Linus Lerner conducts three performances of this program, in Green Valley in addition to SaddleBrooke and Tucson. The native of Brazil has led orchestras, operas, choruses and instrumental groups around the world, including Brazil, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the United States. He also is music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil and founder of the Oaxaca Opera Festival, where SASO has performed the past two summers. He also led the orchestra on two tours of China.

The three concerts are Friday, April 10 at 7 p.m. in Green Valley at the Valley Presbyterian Church, 2800 S. Camino del Sol; Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at DesertView Performing Arts Center, 3990 S. Clubhouse Dr. in SaddleBrooke; and Sunday, April 12 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte in northwest Tucson.

Tickets to the Green Valley and St. Andrew’s concerts are $23 and can be ordered online, by phone at 308-6226 or purchased at the door. Complimentary tickets are available at the St. Andrew’s performance for students age 17 or younger.  Tickets to the SaddleBrooke concert are $24 in advance or $25 at the door. Call 825-2818 or order online at http://tickets/

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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.