SASO focuses on Tucson composers

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra launches its season-long focus on Tucson composers this weekend with Jay Vosk’s 2003 work “Running the Rim.”

In each of its five concerts this season, the volunteer orchestra will perform a work by a Tucson composer that will be recorded for the orchestra’s first CD. Artistic Director and Conductor Linus Lerner said the CD will be released next summer. It also will include other works by Tucson composers that the orchestra will perform in the 2013-14 season, Lerner said.

Longtime SASO supporter Dorothy Vanek is sponsoring the concert, which will include a work SASO violist and composer Richard White wrote in her honor called “Celebration.”

In notes to the orchestra, Vosk described “Running the Rim” as a bit jazzy, with nods to Leonard Bernstein. The piece recounts the native New Yorker’s first visit to the Grand Canyon.

“There is a bright intensity one experiences when at the Grand Canyon,” he wrote. “The work is a kind of reminiscence of a past visit to this enthralling landmark. I also view this work through the eyes of a native New Yorker, which might be why the work is energetic and ‘jazzy’.”

The concert, which the orchestra will perform Saturday night in SaddleBrooke and Sunday in Oro Valley, also includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emporer Concerto,” featuring guest pianist James Dick. Dick, who lives in Texas, is a critically acclaimed soloist who has performed around the country. He also is the founder of the popular Festival Hill at Round Top in Texas, where he hosts the annual Round Top Festival Institute.

The concert ends with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, which makes references to Beethoven.

“It’s a really beautiful piece. It starts very sad with a funeral march but it ends up triumphant. It’s a redemption through death,” Lerner said. “It’s a great piece. Everybody loves Tchaikovsky No. 5.”

If you go

  • What: Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra in concert.
  • Featuring: Guest pianist James Dick.
  • When and where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at DesertView Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Drive in SaddleBrooke, and 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte.
  • Tickets: For SaddleBrooke, $21 in advance, $23 day of; for St. Andrew’s, $20, free for children 17 and younger. Available online at


Jay Vosk’s “Running The Rim.”

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, E-flat major “Emperor Concerto.”

Williamson’s “The Flower of Scotland.”

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, E minor.

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SASO’s Story

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