Pick of the Week

Choral Crescendo

The Tucson Chamber Artists hope this is the year that establishes the organization, entering its fourth season, as one of Tucson's top professional performing-arts organizations, alongside the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Arizona Theatre Company.

"We would like to reach more people in this community with our music," says founder and conductor Eric Holtan. "We are looking to further raise awareness of our existence, and this year can do that."

Holtan began taking piano lessons as a boy and started singing in church services. He studied voice and choral conducting at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota before completing a master's degree in choral conducting at the University of Iowa. Holtan moved to Tucson and pursued a doctorate in musical arts at the UA, in choral and orchestral conducting. Holtan also was assistant director of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus--but something was missing, he says.

"Tucson had a professional-level opera, theater company and orchestra, but no choral organization," Holtan says. "I had some conducting experience, and I kept thinking, 'What if Tucson had an organization completely comprised of a professional chamber choir?' And although it was new territory, I decided to take the chance."

Tucson Chamber Artists began three years ago and has grown since, Holtan says. Members include everyone from musicians completing master's degrees to those who are professional church musicians.

"At this time, each and every member of Tucson Chamber Artists has a connection to Tucson," Holtan says. "It is not a full-time job; there are only two full-time professional choirs in the country. Hopefully, someday, we can have the infrastructure to support one."

Throughout the first three seasons, the TCA stuck to mainstream choral music, particularly pieces written in the 20th century. A favorite performance of Holtan's was Mozart's Mass in C minor, which the TCA performed in November 2006. He says that when choosing the arrangements, he dug deep into choral music's roots.

For this season, though, Holtan is trying something new.

"This season's theme is based off of the meaning of the word 'metamorphosis,'" Holtan says. "We have taken the meaning literally, as we are growing and evolving from something good to something great."

For each of the five concerts this season, Holtan chose two words to represent the works performed. For the first concert, hope and dream signify the TCA's goal of reaching more music fans in the community. For one piece, Holtan was inspired by a piece written by Eric Whitacre, composed after an E. E. Cummings poem. The piece is titled "hope, faith, life, love." The first concert will also include a new work composed by UA graduate student Casey Cook titled "Remember." Cook is the assistant conductor of the TCA, and his inspiration for the piece reflected an emotional connection to memory.

Cook describes his motivation: "'Remember' itself was drawn from a Christina Rossetti sonnet I enjoy, and it characterizes the nebulous quality that memory has--where memories are not very clear and are emotion-based," Cook says.

Cook says he is looking forward to hearing his piece performed by the talented and dedicated performers. He says the level of talent is comparable to that of nationally renowned choral organizations.

"The musicians bring sheer, aesthetic beauty and talent to a community like Tucson," Cook says.

The performance will also feature American folk songs and two original compositions written by Paul Crabtree, whom Holtan described as an established national composer. Crabtree's arrangements are African-American spirituals.

"We are very fortunate to feature his work," Holtan says.

Holtan, Cook and the TCA look forward to their fourth season and hope to see a more reputable future.

"Tucson is doing well supporting local musicians," Holtan says. "This type of organization can bring so much to the community."

The Tucson Chamber Artists will perform at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 25, at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church, 4440 N. Campbell Ave.; and at 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 26, at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, 7570 N. Thornydale Road. Tickets are $18. For more information or for tickets for this performance or the upcoming season, call 401-2651 or visit the Web site.