Spring Arts Classical Music: Songs of the Season

Tucson offers all manner of classical music, opera and more in the months ahead

Catch the Catalina Organ Festival Friday, Feb. 22.
Catch the Catalina Organ Festival Friday, Feb. 22.

Sometimes you need a good, deep breath and a dose of classical music in the springtime more than any other time of year.

You always tell yourself springtime is going to be peaceful and carefree. The frantic buiyness of the holidays is finally over, so you can start getting your waistline and your finances and your life in general back together. But then there's festival season in Southern Arizona. And a slew of weddings to attend. And spring cleaning to be done, and work to catch up on that you fell behind on at the end of last year, and the list goes on and on.

This spring, keep yourself sane—and even happy—with a healthy dose of classical music. Whether it's Tchaikovsky in the park, multimedia mashups of works by the likes of Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen, performances by world-renowned organists, or iconic works of opera, the Old Pueblo will have something to soothe your springtime soul. 

Tucson Symphony Orchestra

All TSO events take place at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., unless otherwise noted.

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. One of the most popular piano concertos of all time, this piece features two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B flat, two bassoons, four horns in F, two trumpets in F, three trombones, one timpani, a solo piano, some strings and one exploding head (yours, because of how good it is). Tchaikovksy International Piano Competition gold medalist Barry Douglas will be the piano soloist. This night also features the TSO premiere of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7, which the composer wrote to honor Ludwig II of Bavaria, a king who was much more interested in the arts than in ruling. 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17.

Juanita the Adventurous Chicken. The TSO Just for Kids series is a great way to get kids interested in classical music, or even to get yourself interested in classical music if you're a hesitant adult. This show tells the story of Juanita the chicken, who is growing bored of her life on the farm, but gets more adventure than she ever imagined when she is unexpectedly left at the fair. The TSO Wind Quintet takes us through the story, written by former TSO clarinetist Michael Byerly, with the music of Richard Strauss. 10 and 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16. Free.

Grand Canyon Suite. It's the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon being designated a national park, and if you've ever seen that beauty, you know that it's something worth celebrating. Watch film of the park, as well as a 1958 Walt Disney short film about it, played to Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite, which premiered in Tucson. The suite might sound familiar because one of the movements was heavily featured in that most classic of movies: A Christmas Story. 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 2 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 3.

Gomez Plays Mozart. Maestro José Luis Gomez seems to like Tucson—after all, he just signed an extension to his original four-year contract, so he'll be here until 2024. He said in a press release, "In these first two seasons we have made such great music together, why would we want to stop?" Don't miss his Tucson performing debut as first violin in Mozart's Serenade for Strings. The night also feature's Mozart's "Nacht Musique," and Haydn's "Drumroll," the second movement of which was so popular at its premiere in the 18th century that it was performed twice. 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 8, 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Dr.

Mahler Symphony No. 5. Mahler's Symphony No. 5, particularly its horn bits, might sound familiar to you from the 1971 film Death in Venice. Tonight, you'll also hear Van Cliburn silver medalist, pianist Joyce Yang, team up with former TSO principal trumpet Conrad Jones to perform Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1. Rounding it out is Giuseppe Martucci's Notturno, composed as part of his mission to get 19th-century Italians interested in anything besides opera. 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 15, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 17.

The Works of Andrew Lloyd Webber & Stephen Sondheim. Musical theater nerds unite! The works of two of the art form's most iconic trailblazers are coming to the stage in one night full of incredible melodies, brilliant lyrics and an audience full of people who will probably be singing along. TSO and a cast of Broadway singers will perform selections from Gypsy, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Phantom of the Opera and more. 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24.

Animalia. Members of the Tucson Girls Chorus' Bumblebee chorus (for kindergarten and first grade girls) and the Mariposa singers (typically sixth through eighth grade girls) in this edition of the TSO "Just for Kids" series. It's interactive, it's animal-themed, and has a bunch of little girls who love to sing. What more could you ask for? 10 and 11:15 a.m. Saturday, March 30. Free.

Sibelius Symphony No. 2. Jean Sibelius was staying in the mountains of Italy when he wrote this symphony, but it brings to mind the rugged landscape of his homeland in Finland. Sibelius himself said "My second symphony is a confession of the soul," which is certainly enough to pique our interest. This night also features Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, which Time Magazine called the best classical piece of the 20th century, and Brahms' Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny). 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 5, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 7.

Music Rocks! And so does science! This evening in the home of Carl and Judy Bowser in Pusch Ridge Estates is going to be full of both. The TSO Brass Quartet will be playing music, and guest speakers George Davis, UA geosciences regents professor emeritus; Joaquin Ruiz, UA College of Science dean; and Jim Cook, CEO of the Western National Parks Association, will be talking about Tucson's geological wonders. 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 6.

Civic Orchestra of Tucson

The Emperor! These free concerts will feature Rimsky's Kosakov's Le Coq d'or (The Golden Cockerel) Suite, Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, "Emperor." This last one was Beethoven's last completed piano concerto, and will feature piano soloist Rex Woods, who has been teaching at the UA since 1988 and who presented his first public solo recital more than 50 years ago. 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, at Journey Church, 4700 N. Swan Road. 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, at Crowder Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road. Free.

Pops in the Park. This annual event features both popular music and light classical music under the stars at Reid Park. Last year, for example, they played the March and Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, the Colonel Bogey March by Kenneth J. Alford and the Waltz from Carousel. This year will feature one or more of the winners from their 2019 Young Artists' Competition. 7 p.m. Sunday, May 5. DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center, 1030 S. Randolph Way.

True Concord

St. Matthew Passion. What were you doing in 1727? Probably nothing monumental. And certainly nothing as monumental as what Johann Sebastian Bach was doing in 1727: writing one of the great masterpieces of classical sacred music. This work tells the story of Christ's final sufferings using text from the Book of Matthew, German poetry and chorales, and the sheer number of musicians needed to perform it means it's not often seen outside of major metropolitan areas. But with 10 soloists, several choirs (including the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus) and two orchestras, True Concord has put together a crew to make it happen. 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, at the Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley, 2800 S. Camino Del Sol; 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive; 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24, at Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway Blvd. $25 GA and $40 for premium seating.

Arizona Early Music Society

Scholl and Karamazov: Airs and Fancies. Andreas Scholl is one of the world's leading countertenors, and has numerous awards, including the ECHO Award for his composition for an audiobook of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Nightingale." Edin Karamazov was once a classical guitarist, but now is more known for his virtuosic performances on the Baroque lute, garnering rave reviews throughout Europe and America. At this event, they team up on works by Dowland, Campion, Handel, Caccini and Bach, as well as some folk music for added variety. 3 p.m. Sunday, March 10. Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St.

Members of the Handel and Haydn Society. Formed in 1815, the Handel and Haydn Society is the nation's oldest arts organization. In 1980, the then-music director transformed it into a period instrument ensemble, and now the group is a leader in historically informed performance. Don't miss your chance to see some of their members play the works of Biber, Schmelzer and Vivaldi. Aisslinn Nosky and Susanna Ogata are two of the most sought-after baroque violinists in the U.S., and Guy Fishman, principal cellist and Ian Watson, principal keyboardist and associate director, are also critically acclaimed musicians. 3 p.m. Sunday, April 7. Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St.

Arizona Friends of Chamber Music

Portals: Tim Fain Violin. Tim Fain plays violin, yes. But he also put together this multimedia concert that explores the way humans long for connection in the digital age. With music by leading living composers like Philip Glass and Nico Muhly, film choreographed and directed by Black Swan's Benjamin Millepied, more films by Kate Hackett and spoken-word poetry by Leonard Cohen, this night really is going to be a portal, straight up to the next level of existence. 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21. Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

AFCM Festival. With five days' worth of music, this festival will have something for all instrumental music lovers. Day one features, just for example, both Philip Glass and Shostakovich. Day two's got Beethoven and Mozart. Day three features Bacewicz and Arensky. Day four has Kevin Puts and Taneyev. And day five will be serving up Brahms and Mendelssohn. And that's just some of the music you'll hear! There's so much more to enjoy at this festival, so attend one day, some of the days or all five to soak up some songs. 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 3. 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5, Wednesday, March 6 and Friday, March 8. 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave.

Jerusalem Quartet. Shostakovich's third quartet originally had titles for each of the five movements, tracing the history of World War II: "Calm unawareness of future cataclysm," "Rumblings of unrest and anticipation," "the forces of war unleashed," "Homage to the dead" and "The eternal question–Why? And for what?" Talk about telling a story. To balance out the heaviness of Shostakovich these evening, enjoy also a warm piece by Debussy and a delightfully jolly one by Haydn. The Jerusalem Quartet performs them all with their signature mix of beauty and intensity. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 3. Leo Rich Theater, 260 S. Church Ave.

ZOFO Piano Duet. ZOFO—the super cool stage name of Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi—have been wowing audiences and earning Grammy nominations since they banded together as one of the only duos in the world exclusively devoted to playing piano duets back in 2009. This live concert experience features 15 new commissioned duet compositions from top composers all over the world. ZOFO asked each composer to pair their work with a painting representative of his or her culture and how it relates to the creative process. It's like a 21st-century version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18. Pima Community College Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre, West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road.

UA Presents

Joshua Bell. Joshua Bell has done everything from teach at MIT to perform on the Tonight Show to be named one of People Magazine's 50 most beautiful people. And he's recorded more than 40 CDs, earning Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone and Echo Klassik awards along the way. Did we mention he performs on a Stradivarius violin from 1713, with an 18th-century French bow. Sam Haywood joins him on the piano at this performance 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15. Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of the biggest and best orchestras in Europe, formed way back in 1891. It hasn't done a U.S. tour in 35 years, so this chance to see them what one reviewer from the Herald Scotland described as "one of the greatest music experiences of his life" is not to be missed. Violinist Sandy Cameron, who's performed all over the world as a soloist and recitalist, is also on tonight's agenda. 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 31. Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.

Alex de Grassi and Andrew York. Alex de Grassi is a Grammy-nominated steel-string guitarist from Windham Hill. Andrew York is a Grammy-winning classical guitarist. When the two get together, with their roots in traditions that seem totally distinct, they make magic, and the sounds of their instruments blende seamlessly into original compositions, improvs, arrangements of standards and pop music. 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April. 11. Crowder Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road.

Considering Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a young, gay college student was kidnapped, beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Wyoming. When he died, the world noticed, and composer Craig Hella Johnson took note. This Grammy-nominated three-part oratio combines spoken word, cowboy songs, American hymns and popular songs, spirituals, jazz and more to tell this powerful, at times overwhelming, and even sometimes hopeful tale. 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16. Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.

Fred Fox School of Music

There are dozens and dozens of events going on at the Fred Fox School of Music this spring, and we couldn't begin to list them all. But here's a few to whet your appetite for heading over to music.arizona.edu to learn more.

41st Annual Azjazz Week. With one show a day for six days, this festival really is a celebration of all things jazz. You might like the UA studio jazz ensemble, featuring Joe Lovano on saxophone; the Lewis Nash Quartet; "To Ella With Love"—featuring Crystal Stark's voice and Khris Dodge's keyboard skills—or the UA Concert Jazz Band with Rob Boone on the trombone. Odds are, you'll like them all. Who ever regretted going to see too much live music, right? Sunday, Feb. 24, through Friday, March 1. Crowder Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road.

Fifth Annual David Russell Bach Prize Finalists Recital. The Tucson Guitar Society is closing this year's International Artists Series with Grammy Award-winning guitarist David Russell, of Spain and Scotland, and French performer Gabriel Bianco. Russell comes back to the UA annually to teach, perform, and judge this recital, which features four top guitar students playing work by Bach. This year's winner gets a custom guitar by German luthier Dennis Tolz, who will also be at the event. 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20. Holsclaw Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road.

"On This Starry Night"–Michelle Gott, Harp. For her debut faculty recital at the UA, Michelle Gott—a three-time Juilliard graduate who had worked with orchestras throughout the U.S. and Canada—wants us to think about our souls in relationship to the vast universe of the stars. She dedicates the recital to the memories of one of her mentors and to her mother and first harp teacher. 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, April 8. Holsclaw Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road.

Premieres Across History. The final class in Introduction to Music Literature, this night will feature music history professor Matthew Mugmon making brief remarks about the premieres of some of the greatest pieces of music in history. The highlight of the night? Daveen Fox composer-in-residence & Fred Fox School of Music graduate composer Kari Kreiter will have a dress rehearsal, then the world-premiere performance, of one of her works. 11 a.m. to noon. Thursday, April 25. Crowder Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road.

Catalina Organ Festival

Douglas Cleveland. The internationally acclaimed organist (he won first prize in the 1994 American Guild of Organists National Young Artists Competition in Dallas, and has gone on to record four CDs, appear on all sorts of radio and perform across the nation and world) is currently the John Delo Faculty Fellow in Organ at the University of Washington School of Music, as well as the director of music and liturgical arts at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. At this event, he'll be playing western premiere of UA professor Pamela Decker's huge, award-winning new work The Last Seven Words and Triumph of Christ. The night will also feature performances by UA dancers for an irresistible experience. 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22. Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway Blvd.

Arizona Opera

Arizona Opera performances take place at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

Silent Night. This Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, with music by Kevin Puts and a libretto by Mark Campbell, takes place during World War I. Well, specificity is important here, because it takes place on Christmas Eve, 1914, the date of the Christmas truce, during which 100,000 soldiers briefly put aside their weapons in no-man's land. This exploration of the human cost of war is worth singing about—in five different languages, no less. 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 10.

The Marriage of Figaro. With a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte and music by a composer named Mozart you may have heard of, this comic opera is one of the most commonly performed operas today. It tells the story of two servants, Figaro and Susanna, who are about to get married. But then, Figaro's master Count Almaviva decides he wants Susanna for himself. How do they untangle this love triangle and get everyone in Seville their own happy ending? Only one way to find out. 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 14.

Così fan Tutte. Often translated into English as "Women are Like That," this opera goes to show just how timeless rom-coms are. Pals Guglielmo and Ferrando love their fiancees, but just in case, they decide that each should try to seduce the other's fiancée, in disguise, to test the women's faithfulness. As you can imagine, mishaps and mayhem ensue as Mozart and Da Ponte explore questions about what's needed in an honest relationship and what makes a friend a true friend. 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 28.

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