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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