SASO to perform in Mexico for Oaxaca Opera Festival

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is starting its 2013-14 season early with its first-ever trip to Mexico this weekend.

Of course, international touring is nothing new for the volunteer orchestra. Last year it made its second tour of China since 2009.

SASO, under the baton of music director and conductor Linus Lerner, will perform at the inaugural Oaxaca Opera Festival Saturday and Sunday. The orchestra will be joined by a chorus and 16 soloists from Mexico who competed for their slots in the festival.

Lerner, who also is artistic director and founder of the Oaxaca Opera Festival, will lead the performance of selections by Bizet, Donizetti, Gounod, Handel, Mascagni, Massenet, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi. SASO will perform the overture to Verdi’s “Nabucco” and the intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.” The orchestra, soloists and chorus will join in for four Verdi selections – “Brindisi,” “Gypsy Chorus” and “Matadors’ Chorus,” all from La Traviata, and “Va Pensiero” from “Nabucco.”

The opera festival is part of Oaxaca’s fourth annual Festival of the Historic Center. SASO performs Saturday in the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá and Sunday at the Church of Santo Domingo.

Lerner, who left for Mexico last week, said in a written statement that both venues “are absolutely outstanding acoustically.”

“The Teatro Alcalá resembles a mix of Carnegie Hall of New York and Teatro La Scala of Milan,” he added.

Lerner has led SASO since 2008. The University of Arizona alumnus also is music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil and has conducted orchestras, operas, choruses and ensembles in his native Brazil, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Spain and the U.S.

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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."