SASO Plays a Dazzling Liszt Concerto

By Punch Howarth

Liszt Lehmann portraitFranz Liszt’s electrifying Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major will be performed by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra conducted by Linus Lerner at SaddleBrooke on April 5 and at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian on April 6. The soloist will be Pervez Mody. Also on this program will be Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and the winner of the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition, who will be announced later.

Soloist Pervez Mody is a native of Mumbai (Bombay), India, who was schooled in Russia at the Tchaikovsky Moscow Conservatory in 1987, then at the Calcutta School of Music, and finally at the Karlsruhe School of Music in Germany, where he also performed. He was advised by world-famous pianist Martha Agaerich that in addition to his European appearances, he should perform more in India, which he now does. His favorite composers are Scriabin, Messiaen, Liszt and Chopin. He states, “I feel Bach is the god of Western classical music, while Beethoven is the messiah.” He performs regularly in Europe, Asia and South America, and records with Naxos.

The concerto Mr. Mody will perform by Liszt will be a test of his skills, as, along with Beethoven and Rachmaninov, Liszt was one of the greatest piano composers and soloists. The first performance was in February, 1855 in Weimar, Germany with Liszt as soloist and Hector Berlioz conducting. This concerto has the slang name “the triangle concerto,” as there are triangle solos in Part 3. The work is in four parts or movements, but there are no breaks between them. All the main themes for the work were found in a sketchbook of Liszt’s, dated 1830, when he was 19 years old.

Part 1 is fast, majestic, and opens with an orchestra ritornello presenting the main theme of the work. The piano enters in octaves, and there is much development, key changing, and brilliant piano writing. The ending has very soft piano arpeggios. Part 2 opens with cello and double bass in a slow adagio followed by the piano playing cantabile una corda (soft pedal). Soloist and orchestra go back and forth, and the movement ends with a piano-clarinet duet.

Triangle opens Part 3 and has solos throughout. Themes from movements 1 and 2 are heard, and the music is fast-moving and rhapsodic, and ends with wild solo piano. Part 4 has a fast opening with a new theme following a descending E-flat-major scale. All the previous themes are reviewed, and the solo piano plays more than one rhythm simultaneously. There is a big, dramatic ending in the home key and is very loud, climaxing with a “racehorse” vivace.

This work has some of the most difficult piano playing ever composed, and as in Beethoven, the orchestra is an equal partner, not just an accompaniment.

This program will be performed at SaddleBrooke on Saturday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the DesertView Performing Arts Center and repeated on Sunday, April 6 at 3 p.m. in northwest Tucson’s St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

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SASO’s Story

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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.