SASO Performs a Dazzling-Dramatic Concert in April

By Punch Howarth

Rimsky-KorsakovNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol will open the April 5-6 spring concerts by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra directed by Linus Lerner. The Capriccio started as a work for violin and orchestra, and later changed to a Spanish compilation of folk dances. The scoring is for a standard orchestra but with added percussion. Rimsky-Korsakov and Berlioz are regarded as the pioneers of modern orchestration, not just adding instruments but pushing the limits and capacities of every performer.

The five-movement work is divided into two sections. The A section starts with an Alborada, which is a Spanish morning dance in two time with accents on the first beat. There are cadenzas for clarinet and violin. This is followed by a Variazoni sequence, starting with solo horn and followed by variations of this theme by other instruments and orchestra. Then comes a reiteration of the Alborada but with changes in key and featured instruments.

Section B starts with “Scena e canto gitano” (Scene and Gypsy Song) and has five cadenzas: brass, violin, flute, clarinet, and harp played over sustained percussion. Following is a fast gypsy dance in three time with a timpani crescendo leading directly into the Fandango asturiano, a fast dance in the time originating in the Austurias area of northern Spain. At the mid-point the Alborado in two time returns as a coda going from vivo to presto. There are no pauses between movements, attacca being the musical term.

Capriccio Espagnol is an orchestral showpiece allowing all sections to stand out. The added percussion is precedent-setting, some of the sounds originating in Spain and others arriving via Ottoman invasions of Europe, as did coffee drinking. Capriccio Espagnol is dedicated to the original orchestra members, each by name, as they applauded each movement at first rehearsal. It premiered in 1887, one year prior to Rimsky’s most famous work, Scheherazade, and there are various similarities between the two works.

Tchaikovsky photo youngMany composers have used Shakespearian plays as the basis for a variety of musical compositions, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one with his Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, which will close the concert. Where Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian Nationalist composer and member of Kuchka (the Group of Five), which tried to minimize European influences, Tchaikovsky used traditional sonata form with some Slavic hints. His Romeo and Juliet comes early in his career and is considered a symphonic poem in sonata form. He was motivated and inspired by Mily Balakierev, his teacher and Kuchka member.

The work has no opus number and is labeled TH 42 (Tchaikovsky Handbook), uses three ideas from the play, and is divided into five parts. The first is an introduction in F to E minor portraying Friar Laurence, and the following in B minor depicts the forceful-agitated conflict of the Montague and Capulet families with sword-fighting cymbal crashes. The well-known love theme in D-flat minor is Part 3 and is passionate and anxious. The English horn depicts Romeo, and flutes portray Juliet. Part 4 is a recapitulation that reviews the conflict, Friar and love themes in E minor. Two big cymbal crashes signify the suicides of the two lovers and is followed by a finale of battle music. Instead of ending the work here, Tchaikovsky adds a coda (epilogue) startling as a slow dirge with triplet figures on the timpani, followed by memory of the lovers, climaxing with a great timpani swell leading to a sharp-punctuated orchestra finale.

There are three versions of Romeo, from1870, 1872 and1886, and this final version was premiered by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. For years it was not well-received in Europe, but this slowly changed and today Romeo and Juliet is extremely popular. Jimmy Dorsey recorded “Our Love” based upon the love theme.

In between these two popular works will be the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major of Franz Liszt with Pervez Mody as soloist, and also the winner of the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition, to be announced. The concert will be performed at SaddleBrooke on Saturday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m in the DesertView Performing Arts Center, and in northwest Tucson on Sunday, April 6 at 3 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

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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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.