New Year's Pick

First-Rate Fun

New Year's Eve really ought to be a classy time. And here in Tucson... well, you can't get much classier than the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (TSO). Every year on Dec. 31, they host the New Year's Eve Moveable Musical Feast, the second of a yearly four-part series of exclusive, intimate restaurant concerts--and this particular concert, arguably, is the one most worth attending. It's a nightlong event full of gourmet food, fancy cocktails, elegant dancing and, of course, the best classical music in town.

The evening will begin with ambient sounds by TSO's principal harpist, Patricia Harris, who will charm patrons as they arrive and enjoy cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in a private courtyard. Harris, who's been playing music since she was 8, learned the harp from her mother, Anne Adams, the principle harpist for the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera. Harris has been in the TSO for more than 30 years, has done several recordings and has played all over Arizona and the United States. Everywhere she goes, her music is highly acclaimed (as it ought to be--she's certainly had enough practice).

Once all the guests have arrived and loosened up, the first concert will be given by the Percussion Quartet, a group made up of the orchestra's principle percussionist, Homero Ceron, along with Todd Hammes, Dieter Schodde and Doug Smith. They have a diverse repertoire lined up, including everything from a Vivaldi mandolin concerto to a traditional Mexican marimba medley to a short, loud rock 'n' roll rhythm called "4/4 for Four." They'll also include a couple of surprise novelty numbers that, Hammes hints, might very well call for a little audience participation--a sing-along, perhaps?

"We're going to do a bunch of things that are very fun," Hammes promises.

Once the audience has recovered from the Percussion Quartet's lively performance, they can settle down in one of six cozy dining rooms at the Arizona Inn, where they'll enjoy some very sophisticated French cuisine, including a "Princess Salad," the chef's selection of sorbet and an entrée of grilled beef tenderloin with cabernet sauce, paired with seared scallops and herb beurre blanc.

The second concert of the night will feature three of the symphony's finest musicians. Nelzimar Neves, a native of Brazil and former member of the Chamber Orchestra of São Paolo, will treat the audience to the beautiful sounds of her cello, and Michael Becker, who's played with orchestras all over the country--internationally, too--will play songs by Gustav Mahler on the trombone. Both will be accompanied by UA music professor and master pianist Paula Fan, who will show why her talents are recognized by singers, instrumentalists and educational institutions worldwide. (Keep an eye out for her new CD with concert master and first violinist Steven Merckel, to be released in early 2007.) At the end of the program, Neves, Becker and Fan will all play together.

For the evening's crowning moment--that is, the stroke of midnight--guests will return to the private dining rooms for dessert, coffee, party favors and champagne as they celebrate the beginning of a new year. Then they'll dance the rest of the night away in a New York jazz club setting to the sounds of "Swing 'n the New," a light and traditional jazz ensemble made up of various TSO players and possibly a few guest musicians.

"This is going to be the most elegant, romantic way to celebrate the New Year in Tucson," says TSO public relations manager Terry Marshall. "There have been a lot of friendships formed (at this event) in the past, and the fact that people can count on it happening every year just makes it that much more appealing. ... You can't really top the combination of the setting, the music and the food."

Take note: Just because the Tucson Symphony is classy, professional and sophisticated, that doesn't mean they're a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. Actually, says Hammes, though there are definitely some veteran musicians in the orchestra, in general, the members are young and "play with a youthful exuberance that's lacking in many other orchestras. In ours, you look around, and it's mostly young, energetic people who are really fighting for the music."

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra's New Year's Moveable Musical Feast will begin at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 31 at the Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St. Tickets are $180 per person, and may be purchased by calling 882-8585. Attendees are encouraged to reserve tickets as soon as possible, since this event generally sells out early. Visit for more information.

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