SASO Season Opens with Viola Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra opens the season with Amanda Harberg’s Viola Concerto, composed for and played by her friend Brett Deubner, a champion of new works for the viola. The Oct. 10 and 11 concerts also feature José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, known as the “Pathétique.”

Deubner has soloed with more than 40 orchestras on four continents, garnering praise for his “dynamic virtuosity” and “infectious capriciousness.” He’s collaborated with some of today’s most noted composers. More than 80 works for viola have been dedicated to and premiered by him. He’s also recorded 10 CDs. This season he plans to travel with SASO to Brazil and give recitals in Ecuador and Italy.

Harberg, a Philadelphia native and Juilliard graduate, composes “truly beautiful” and “hauntingly moving” music. Her compositions are said to engage audiences and performers alike on both emotional and intellectual levels.

The viola as a solo instrument has gained in popularity in recent decades in part for its rich, warm, mellow resonance and range that is five notes lower than a violin. Many composers have played and written for the viola, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvořák and Hindemith.

Moncayo’s lively and immensely popular Huapango was inspired by folk tunes from the Veracruz region of Mexico. SASO first played this piece at a free concert in Tucson in September, sponsored by the Mexican Consulate in Tucson and the Instituto Cultural Mexicano de Tucson.

Leopold Stokowski once said of Tchaikovsky: “His musical utterance comes directly from the heart and is a spontaneous expression of his innermost feeling. It is as sincere as if it were written with his blood.” The “Pathétique” symphony was Tchaikovsky’s last. He died just nine days after its premiere. The work was named for its overall pathos by his brother Modest.

Longtime philanthropist, artist and musician Dorothy Vanek is the SASO season sponsor – for the ninth consecutive year.

The first performance will be Saturday, Oct. 10 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. Season tickets also are available for $91. This performance is sponsored by SaddleBrooke residents Tom and Carolyn Cochran.

The second concert, sponsored by Patricia Linder, will be Sunday, Oct. 11 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo del Norte. Individual tickets at St. Andrews are $23 for adults and complimentary for ages 17 and under. Order online at or by calling 308-6226. Season tickets also are on sale for $90.

Music Director Lerner conducts four of the five SASO programs this season. Lerner also serves as music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. He’s conducted orchestras, operas, choruses and instrumental groups around the globe – including his native Brazil and in Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, Spain and Turkey. He’s also an international clinician and vocal coach. He has led SASO musicians on two tours of China and appearances at the Oaxaca Opera Festival in Mexico for the past three summers.

The SASO season continues with four more programs:

  • Nicholas Armstrong, artistic director of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, guest conducts the second program on Nov. 7 and 8. The soloists for the Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings are two Bulgarian brothers. Ivo Stankov plays the violin and Lachezar Stankov the piano. The program also includes Sibelius’ Karelia Overture and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5.
  • The third SASO concert will be presented three times, on Jan. 28, Feb. 5 and Feb. 6. The program includes Gould’s American Salute, Rachmaninoff’s ever-popular second piano concerto with SASO’s own Sheryll McManus at the keyboard, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, known as “From the New World.”
  • Christi Amonson and Larry Leung return to solo with SASO in the fourth concert cycle 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 with Australian-born soloist Emily Sun and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.

SASO released its first professional recording — Celebration! — showcasing the diverse musical range of six Tucson composers. The 75-minute CD is on sale now at for $18.50 including shipping. The orchestra’s next recording will be Harberg’s Viola Concerto with Deubner as soloist in 2016.

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

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SASO’s Story

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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.