Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra Opens Season with Flare

TUCSON, AZ — The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra performs a riveting program of Mexican and French masterpieces in their season-opening cycle on October 20th and 21st, led by internationally recognized conductor Linus Lerner.

Pianist Sandra Shen will join SASO for a second time, performing Saint-Saëns’ popular Piano Concerto No. 2. Shen enjoys a rising international career as a concert pianist. She is a Steinway artist and was recently named Guest Distinguished Faculty at Furman University. She has performed at renowned music halls in 14 countries and has won several prestigious awards, performing repertoire from baroque to contemporary. Lerner and the Orchestra look forward to sharing the stage with her again.

Three works by two great Mexican composers grace the concert program: Carlos Chávez’ Symphony No. 2 (Sinfonía India), and two works by Arturo Márquez: Conga del Fuego Nuevo and Danzón No. 2. Chávez is one of Mexico’s most celebrated composers and the Sinfonía is his most popular work. The one-movement symphony is based on melodies of indigenous people of different areas of Mexico, and uses a wide assortment of traditional percussion instruments to augment the full orchestra with evocative sounds of tribal dances and infectious rhythms in constantly changing time signatures.

The two pieces by Márquez will be exciting bookends to the concert. Márquez, born in Sonora in 1950, is one of Mexico’s most performed contemporary composers, and the Conga and the Danzón have become wildly popular works. Opening the concert, the Conga del Fuego Nuevo (Conga of the New Fire) is inspired by the Afro-Cuban conga. Márquez’s version captures the excitement and infectious rhythmic drive of this music. His Danzón No. 2 is one of nine Danzóns that he has written based on music of Cuba and the Veracruz region of Mexico. It creates excitement through percussive, driving and at times complex rhythms, interspersed with a few more languid moments. In 2007, it was played by the Simon Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela on tour in the USA, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, which increased the popularity of this piece and other music by Márquez.

SASO has championed many Latin American works over the years, and it continues many projects and partnerships across the border. SASO travels every summer to perform at the San Luis Opera Festival in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. This year was SASO’s third at the festival, and the second iteration of the Linus Lerner International Voice Competition. Winners of the competition were recently featured with SASO at the Mexican Independence Day Celebration Concert at the Fox Tucson Theater this past September.

Finally, Debussy’s Petite Suite, composed from 1886 to 1889, was originally written for piano duet, and was later orchestrated by his contemporary Henri Büsser. The suite comprises four short movements; the first two intended as settings of Paul Verlaine’s Fêtes galantes.  Under Lerner’s baton, the orchestra promises to bring out the evocative imagery Debussy imbued in the suite.

Linus Lerner returns to Tucson for his tenth season with SASO after a summer conducting around the world, with appearances in Italy, Portugal, Mexico and Brazil. Lerner is praised for his “infectiously energetic and boundlessly impassioned” conducting style, which can be heard reflected in the orchestra’s lively performances. Last year, SASO made its recording debut on the Naxos label under Lerner’s baton with a recording of new viola concertos performed by the orchestra and violist Brett Deubner. The project was generously underwritten by philanthropist and musician Dorothy Vanek, who also continues in her 12th consecutive year as SASO’s season sponsor.

SASO is a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a passion for music. Founded in 1979, this orchestra presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical favorites.

Performances are Saturday, October 20th at 7:30 pm at DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke, and Sunday, October 21st, 3:00 pm at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Oro Valley. Tickets for Saturday’s concert can be purchased at, and Sunday’s concert at or by calling 520-308-6226.

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