Tucson orchestra flies to China for series of concerts

Sometime while we were sleeping, the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra crossed the international dateline on a jet, destined to make history.

It will be one of the first American community orchestras to tour China, performing on stages normally reserved for much larger, professional ensembles.

“I still don’t really believe it,” said longtime SASO member Tim Secomb, who played a crucial role in arranging the international travel for 68 musicians and another 23 people—including family members and orchestra supporters—who will travel with the group. “This is not something I would have ever dreamed we would do. It’s such an enormous undertaking, and for an orchestra like ours, it’s an unbelievable opportunity.”

SASO Music Director Linus Lerner got the China invite last summer from a longtime acquaintance, Kai Fu, who arranges for American groups to perform in China. Fu, a classically trained cellist who works as international outreach coordinator at Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio, arranged the trip through the China Dalian Yilong Performance Company.

The orchestra’s “first reaction was, ‘You’re kidding,’ ” said Lerner, who earned his doctoral degree in choral conducting from the University of Arizona not long before being tapped for the SASO job in May 2008. “It was quite complicated to make them trust me.”
Lerner, who met Fu in graduate school in Florida, said he had to convince the orchestra he was not floating a pipe dream. After researching the cities where they would perform, Lerner again pitched the idea; about 90 percent of the orchestra signed on.

“People in Tucson, we’re kind of skeptical,” said Barbara L. Chinworth, who plays bass and is one of seven original members who will make the China trip. “Then things started to take off. Oh, I guess we’re going to China.”

The orchestra’s tour comes as it celebrates its 30th-anniversary season. Chinworth and her husband, Bill, were among the founding members, gathering a group of musicians together to play for the love of music.

Chinworth said never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined that the group would journey off across the world.

“It is a challenge, but the orchestra started off as a challenge and we’ve taken on challenges. That’s the fun of it,” she said.

“It’s a big achievement for the orchestra,” said Lerner. “It’s fantastic that a community orchestra can do such a thing. It will be a life-changing experience for people who have never been out of the country and never played their music for a different audience before.”

14 hours on a plane, and that’s just the first leg

Sixty-four musicians, most of them with their instruments in tow, and another 21 family members, supporters and friends, boarded a nonstop plane from Los Angeles to Shanghai at 12:30 p.m. California time Saturday (another four musicians and two friends took a separate flight). They were scheduled to land in Shanghai, China, around 5 a.m. today Tucson time, or 7 p.m. in China.

• From Shanghai, they were to catch a plane for the nearly two-hour flight to Dalian, where they will play their first concert Monday at the People’s Cultural Club Theater.

• They fly from Dalian to Shenzhen for three concerts at the Shenzhen Poly Theater including a New Year’s Eve gala on Thursday.

• On Friday, they load onto a bus bound for Dongguan, where they’ll play an evening concert. Then it’s back to Shenzhen for an overnight stay.

• Saturday, they fly from Shenzhen to Shenyang for an evening concert.

• On Jan. 3 they take a train to Beijing to give their final concert there, on Jan. 4.

• They leave China for the U.S. at 11 a.m. China time Jan. 6 and arrive in Tucson at 7:30 p.m. local time Jan. 6.

On StarNet: The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra rehearses for its China trip. Go to azstarnet.com/slideshows

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

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