Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra honors Tucson nurses in virtual performance

Virtual tributeSouthern Arizona Symphony Orchestra wanted to honor Tucson nurses on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic with a little music.

One problem: The volunteer orchestra couldn’t gather in the same room to perform and its music director, Linus Lerner, was 5,000 miles away.

So they did what orchestras worldwide have been doing since the pandemic forced much of the world not to gather in groups of 10 or more: They turned to the internet.

A handful of the orchestra members, with Lerner conducting them from Brazil, performed Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the 1986 British film “The Mission.”

Lerner, who has been in Brazil since just before Arizona and much of the U.S. shutdown in mid-March, said he came up with the idea to honor nurses working up close and personal with the pandemic.

The musicians spent about two weeks performing their individual parts, which they sent to Lerner to edit.

Lerner, who conducts an orchestra in his native Brazil in addition to SASO, said he chose Morricone’s well-known work because of the message it sends of hope and unity regardless of class and ethnicity. Although “The Mission,” which starred Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, was a critical success, it was a box-office flop. Despite that, Morricone was nominated for an Academy Award for the film’s score.

“When it was played in the movie, (the song) was used to bring people together,” Lerner said. “This is a time for us to be together because the (coronavirus) disease does not choose rich or poor, but all. And we depend on those in health care to take good care of us in case we need it.”

The video is posted on SASO’s Facebook page ( and YouTube (

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SASO’s Story

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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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."
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.