The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra kicks off the 2021-22 season with a celebration of movement in Verdi, Beethoven and Grieg

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra opens its season on October 16 and 17 with a selection of works that celebrate the power of music to connect us and make us move. After a year of scaled back ensembles and live-streamed events, the full orchestra returns under the baton of Maestro Linus Lerner.  Internationally renowned concert pianist and Steinway artist James Dick will join the orchestra for Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (Piano Concerto No. 5).  

The program also features the overture to La Forza del Destino, an opera by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi.  Translated as “The Force of Destiny”, the opera was first performed in the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre of Saint Petersburg in 1862.  Over the past century, La forza has had the reputation of being cursed, keeping Luciano Pavarotti from ever performing the opera.  

The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major by Ludwig Van Beethoven is one of the German composer’s most beloved works. Beethoven composed the piece in Vienna at the height of the Napoleonic wars.  Also known as the Emperor Concerto, its melodies have a heroic quality, no doubt influenced by the political unrest of the times.  Beethoven’s last piano concerto is both innovative and triumphant, well suited for the captivating talents of guest pianist James Dick.  

The program closes with a lively rendition of Edvard Grieg’s Symphonic Dances.  The Norwegian composer was inspired by a collection of his country’s native folk songs.  His orchestral interpretations are imaginative and joyous, conveying a familiar feeling that brings to mind a simpler time. Grieg’s own words couldn’t be more appropriate for today: “When alone, one cannot enjoy nature past a certain dimension without melancholy knocking at your door, but in fellowship with a friend, it is infinite, without limits.”

James Dick

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.