SASO performs Brahms, Barber and Berlioz

The final concert of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra season on May 7 and 8 features Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Barber’s Violin Concerto with Australian-born soloist Emily Sun and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.

Music Director Linus Lerner conducts. He and Sun previously performed the Barber concerto with the Garland Symphony Orchestra in Texas. Barber is a popular American composer who won not one but two Pulitzer prizes for music. The exquisitely lyrical concerto is known for the virtuosic challenge of “perpetual motion” in the final movement.

Sun began studying violin at age five with her father, an Australian composer. She debuted at age 10 and has won numerous competitions. In 2011 she received international acclaim performing the starring role in the documentary film Mrs. Carey’s Concerto. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the Royal College of Music in London.

The Berlioz is described as “a drug-fueled fever dream of love, murder and witchery.” Leonard Bernstein once told young concert audience that Symphonie Fantastique was “the most famous hallucination in all of classical music.” The five-movements follow the dream of a lovesick young man who unsuccessfully attempts suicide by opium overdose and instead experiences a series of visions, from ecstatic scenes of love to a nightmarish witches’ sabbath.

Brahms, who never went to college, wrote the Academic Festival Overture as a musical thank you when he was granted an honorary doctorate degree. Composer Kathy Henkel wrote these program notes: “With a masterful balance of serious and light-hearted elements, the emphasis is on the ‘festival’ rather than the ‘academic’ in an overture that brims with an irrepressible sense of fun. Brahms himself described the piece as ‘a very boisterous potpourri of student songs’ ”—including excerpts from four well-known student drinking songs.

The program also features a new work by SASO’s resident composer and violist Richard White: Birthday Greetings, variations on Happy Birthday, composed for philanthropist, artist and musician Dorothy Vanek’s 90th birthday. Vanek is SASO’s season sponsor—for the ninth consecutive year.

The first performance will be Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the SaddleBrooke Desert View Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Dr. in SaddleBrooke, north of the town of Catalina. Tickets are $24 in advance or $25 at the door. They can be ordered online at or by calling 825-2818. This concert is sponsored by Miki Pratt.

The second performance will be Sunday, May 8 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte in northwest Tucson. Individual tickets are $23 for adults and complimentary those age 17 and under. Order online at, call 308-6226 or purchase at the door. This concert is sponsored by Patricia Linder.

Maestro Lerner also serves as music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte and the Gramado In Concert International Music Festival in Brazil. SASO musicians performed at the festival in February. SASO previously toured China twice and performed three times at the Oaxaca Opera Festival in Mexico.

In April SASO recorded concertos by American composers Amanda Harberg and Max Wolpert, both performed by viola virtuoso Brett Deubner. He soloed with SASO in September and at the festival in Brazil. Lerner said Deubner chose to work with SASO based on the quality of the orchestra’s first CD—Celebration!—featuring Tucson composers.

Founded in 1979, SASO presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical favorites. This orchestra is a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a passion for music or more information call 308-6226 or visit

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.