SASO opens season with “The Planets” and Mozart concerto

Join the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra for a concert featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 and Holst’s The Planets, performed with projected images of space provided by the Kitt Peak National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Music Director Linus Lerner planned this international season and will conduct the opening concerts on Oct 4 and 5. The SASO program opens with French-born Berlioz’ Rákóczy March from The Damnation of Faust.

Award-winning pianist Sandra Wright Shen will perform the concerto that Mozart completed in 1785, considered the most technically demanding of his concerti. This is sometimes known as the “Elvira Madigan,” after the 1967 Swedish film of the same name that featured the lyrical second movement.

In 2012 Shen won first prize in the International Piano Competition of France. She came to international prominence in 1997 when she won first prizes at the Hilton Head International Piano Competition, the Mieczyslaw Munz Piano Competition, the Taiwan National Piano Competition and the Peabody Frances M. Wentz Memorial prize.

Shen completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance at the Peabody Conservatory. Today she is a distinguished visiting professor at Furman University and is on the piano faculty at the Brevard Music Festival and Masterworks Festival. She previously taught at Southern Illinois University. Shen aims to “touch people’s hearts though music” and often performs benefit concerts for disaster victims, foster children and other causes. She has recorded three compact discs, filmed a four-part Hong Kong television series and has hosted a classical radio program in her native Taiwan.

British-born Gustav Holst described The Planets as “a series of mood pictures.” The work was inspired by astrology, not astronomy. The seven movements feature Mars, the Bringer of War; Venus, the Bringer of Peace; Mercury, the Winged Messenger; Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity; Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age; Uranus, the Magician; and Neptune, the Mystic. The final movement features an offstage wordless women’s choir.

This work features the largest number of orchestral musicians assembled for any SASO concert in the last 25 years. The Planets is scored for four flutes (doubling on piccolo and alto flute parts), three oboes including  the rarely seen bass oboe, one English horn, three clarinets, a bass clarinet, three bassoons, one contrabassoon, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones, a euphonium and tuba, plus strings, two harps, celesta and a percussion section with six timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, tambourine, glockenspiel, xylophone and tubular bells.

Imaginative and colorful, the novel sonorities of The Planets made it an immediate success at home and abroad. While the work gained fame for Holst in the 1920s, he felt its popularity overshadowed his other works, according to biographer Ian Lace.

The concerts will be presented Saturday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the DesertView Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Drive in SaddleBrooke and Sunday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte in northwest Tucson.

Tickets to the SaddleBrooke concert are $24 in advance or $25 at the door. Call 825-2818 or order online.

Tickets to the St. Andrew’s concert are $23 and can be ordered by phone at 308-6226, online at or purchased at the door. Complimentary tickets are available at the St. Andrew’s performance for students age 17 or younger.

Maestro Lerner has led the orchestra on two tours of China, plus two trips to Mexico to perform in the Oaxaca Opera Festival, where he is music director. He is a vocal coach here and abroad. Lerner also serves as artistic director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. He’s conducted orchestras, operas, choruses and instrumental groups around the world – including Brazil, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Spain, Turkey and the United States.

Longtime SASO supporter Dorothy Vanek is the season sponsor for the eighth consecutive year. The multi-cultural SASO season features music that spans 14 countries.  All concerts are presented at SaddleBrooke on Saturday evening and repeat at St. Andrew’s on Sunday afternoon. Two additional performances are scheduled for Monday evenings in Green Valley as noted below.

Nov. 8 & 9 – Italy’s Gabriele Pezone conducts Rossini’s Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri, plus Panufnik’s Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra with Poland’s Marta Magdalena Lelek and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5.

Feb. 20, 21 & 22 – Beethoven’s rarely performed Triple Concerto features Korean-born pianist Melanie Chae and her violinist husband, Edwin E. Soo Kim, plus Zoran Stilin, who moved to Tucson from Croatia. The program also includes Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. (The Friday night concert is at Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley.) Lerner returns to conduct these concerts and the balance of the season.

April 10, 11 & 12 – SASO’s principal trumpet, Michael Kiefer, composed Psalm 22, which SASO premieres. The program also includes Martinu’s Rhapsody-Concerto, with China-born violist Hong-Mei Xiao as soloist, and Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite. (The Friday night concert is at Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley.)

May 9 & 10 – The season finale features Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with all-American soloist Chloe Trevor and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

This year SASO released its first professional recording—CELEBRATION!—showcasing the diverse musical range of six Tucson composers. The 75-minute CD is on sale now at for $18.50 including shipping.

This orchestra is a vital community resource that has united performers and audiences through a passion for music. Founded in 1979, SASO presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical favorites. It also sponsors the annual Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition.

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