SASO Presents Soul-Stirring Music by Gould, Rachmaninov, Dvořák

Lush, haunting and hummable melodies infuse the next program of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 31 in northwest Tucson, Feb. 5 in Green Valley and Feb. 6 in SaddleBrooke.

Three fabulously famous classics by Morton Gould, Sergei Rachmaninov and Antonín Dvořák are woven with Old-World folk tunes, a patriotic Civil War anthem and familiar-to-the-ear original themes that inspired popular songs. And all have ties to America.

The SASO concert opens with Gould’s rapid-fire American Salute, written in 1942 as the United States entered World War II. This series of variations is based on the Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” The evocative work was composed in one day and performed the next.

Rachmaninov wrote his pivotal Piano Concerto No. 2 following a three-year depression during which he could no longer compose. He emerged in 1900 with this lush Romantic work now revered as the most popular piano concerto ever written. The imposing and prodigious Russian pianist stood 6 foot 6 and toured constantly, performing this concerto and other works for audiences the world over. Enduring themes from this concerto can be heard in the soundtracks of numerous films, in Frank Sinatra hits, Eric Carmen’s 1975 ballad “All By Myself” and Muse’s 2001 “Space Dementia.”

Rachmaninov’s early life was tumultuous. His aristocratic parents went bankrupt, then regained their wealth only to lose it during the Russian revolution. Rachmaninov was conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre before fleeing to Denmark with little more than a box of sheet music. He ultimately emigrated to the United States where his success allowed him to drive fast cars and maintain homes in Beverly Hills, New York and Switzerland.

Despite the joyful nature of his music, writers have said it “exudes the feelings of a man unwillingly divorced from his past.” Rachmaninov became a U.S. citizen in 1943, the year he died.

SASO’s own Sheryll McManus is the piano soloist. For more than 20 years she was a member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and performed as soloist with other orchestras and chamber ensembles. She taught privately and many of her students won prizes in competitions. McManus began piano lessons at age 4 and eventually completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin Conservatory and graduate degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Before moving to Tucson in 2012, she lived in a historic mansion once owned by Cole Porter and participated in annual Cole Porter Festivals. She also plays violin with SASO.

Dvořák began composing in his teens and won several prizes in competitions judged by Johannes Brahms, who later became his champion. Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, known as “From the New World,” was written while he was serving as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York and summering in Spillville, Iowa, a small community of fellow Bohemians. Nostalgic for his homeland, he incorporated Bohemian folk tunes in this symphony.

Dvořák was impressed with the wide open spaces of the New World and influenced by what he saw as purely American music, including that of Native Americans and African Americans. Before the premiere in 1893, he told the New York Herald, “I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral color.” A flute solo references “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in the first movement but the melody that seems so familiar in the second movement was his alone. The song “Goin’ Home,” written in 1922 by a student of Dvořák, uses that theme. When Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong set off to walk on the moon, he took a recording of this symphony in homage to America as the New World.

Music Director Linus Lerner conducts. Philanthropist, artist and musician Dorothy Vanek is season sponsor, for the ninth consecutive year.

The first SASO performance of this program will be Sunday, Jan. 31 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 for age 17 and under. Order online at, call 308-6226 or purchase at the door. This concert is sponsored by Carole and Jerry Levine.

The second performance will be Friday evening Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Valley Presbyterian Church at 2800 S. Camino del Sol in Green Valley. This concert is sponsored in part by Country Fair White Elephant. Individual tickets are $23 in advance or at the door. Order online at or call 308-6226. Mini-season tickets are available for this Green Valley performance and the next concert program there on April 1. The two shows together are $35—a savings of $11.

The final performance of this program will be Saturday Feb. 6 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 Beatrice Simpson.

Maestro Lerner has conducted around the world and 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 will perform there later in February. SASO previously toured China twice and performed three times at the Oaxaca Opera Festival in Mexico.
Two more SASO programs remain this season:

  • Christi Amonson and Larry Leung return to solo with SASO on April 1, 2 and 3. Soprano Amonson sings Whitacre’s Goodnight Moon. Leung performs He Zhanhao’s Eternal Regret of Lin’An on a traditional Chinese guzheng. The program also features the winner of the annual Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto competition sponsored by SASO and Bruckner’s Te Deum with the SASO Chorus and soloists.
  • The season concludes May 7 and 8 with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Barber’s Violin Concerto featuring Australian-born soloist Emily Sun and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.

SASO’s first professional CD is called Celebration! and showcases the diverse musical range of six Tucson composers. The next recording will feature viola concertos by American composers Amanda Harberg and Max Wolpert performed by Brett Deubner. He joins SASO at the festival in Brazil.

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

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."