SASO Musicians Return from Music Festival in Brazil

GramadoSASOMusicians of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra recently returned from Brazil. The orchestra gave two performances at the Gramado In Concert International Music Festival. Gramado is picturesque town in the mountains of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and is also home to an internationally known film festival.

The music festival was founded by Linus Lerner, the Music Director of SASO. The first festival was held in 2015 and the Tucson musicians played in the second festival, which took place from February 12 to February 21 and included an extensive program of recitals, master classes and concerts. More than two hundred musicians participated, including many students.

For these performances, forty SASO musicians were joined by about a dozen members of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte from Natal in northern Brazil. Linus Lerner, a native of Brazil, also directs that orchestra. Several players from other parts of Brazil also joined the orchestra. SASO players commented that the chance to meet and play alongside their Brazilian counterparts was a particularly rewarding aspect of the festival.

The concerts were given on Sunday February 14 and Tuesday February 16. Both programs include Morton Gould’s “American Salute” and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, known as “From the New World.” At each concert, the noted American violist Brett Deubner played a contemporary American viola concerto. At the first concert, Deubner gave the premiere performance of Max Wolpert’s Viola Concerto No. 1, “Giants.” At the second concert, he played Amanda Harberg’s Viola Concerto. Both concertos were dedicated to Deubner, and will be recorded with the orchestra in April for a planned CD.

The audiences responded with great enthusiasm to both performances. As an encore, the orchestra played an arrangement of “The Girl from Ipanema,” the 1962 hit song by Brazilian Antônio Carlos Jobim. After the encore, the audience continued to applaud and demanded an encore of the encore.

The Tuesday performance was scheduled to be given in an outdoor location covered by a large tent-like structure. Shortly before the concert, torrential rain fell and the structure was revealed to be not entirely watertight. The concert had to be moved to an indoor location. Despite the last-minute change, the orchestra still played to a full house.

Members of SASO are experienced travelers, having previously toured China twice and performed at the Oaxaca Opera Festival in Mexico the past three summers, giving performances under the direction of Linus Lerner.

—Tim Secomb

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.