Wind Storm

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra Breaks New Ground With An Exciting Old Work.
By Margaret Regan

R. CARLOS NAKAI naturally is getting most of the advance attention for this weekend's Tucson Symphony Orchestra concert.

Perhaps the premiere player of the Native American flute, Nakai will perform with the orchestra on two works by James DeMars, "Spirit Horses" and "Two World Symphony." Both pieces combine the distinctive sounds of the New World flute with the more familiar tones of Old World instruments. And Nakai is expected to bring in a crossover audience nowadays so prized by arts promoters: In this case, fans of traditional and New Age music will mix with the classical crowd.

But the concerts, set for Thursday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoon, will also offer up a razzle-dazzle Schumann concerto for horns and orchestra, a work so challenging it's rarely heard live.

"The four solo horns are standing up in front," gleefully reports first horn Jacquelyn Sellers. "We don't sit in the back like we normally do. It's pretty spectacular writing for the horn. It's probably the most difficult piece I've ever played."

Though she and the three other horn players have been planning their performance of the Schumann Konzertstück, op. 86, for about two years, Sellers is good-natured about the flurry of publicity for Nakai. "We've been kidding that we're the warm-up band for Nakai," she says.

Part of what makes the Konzertstück so unusual, Sellers explains, is the simple fact that it's an orchestral piece that gives the horns a starring role. There are only about three such works in existence. Composed in 1849, Sellers says the piece owes its life to a technological breakthrough: the invention of the valve. The valve transformed the horn from a lowly rhythmic instrument into a musical instrument capable of sounding every note in the chromatic scale. Schumann rushed to compose one of the first pieces for the new valved horn, and he was so excited by the new instrument's possibilities that he created music that is wildly exultant--and technically very difficult to play.

"It takes four really fantastic horn players," Sellers says. "I wouldn't have done this 10 years ago. (Former musical director) Bob Bernhardt asked me some years ago if I thought the horn section was ready to do the Konzertstück. I had to say no. So he said, 'Let me know when you're ready.' Two years ago, I told him we were, and one month later he was out of here.''

Nevertheless, the piece was put on the schedule and rehearsals began. First horn Sellers, who's now been with the orchestra for 15 years, is joined in the work by Kristine Crandall, Victor Valenzuela and Shawn Campbell. Sometimes it was tough going.

"After a particularly hard rehearsal, I said, 'We're only gonna do this once.' "

But the horn players have since been invited to reprise the piece at the International Women's Brass Conference in St. Louis in June, this time with a piano instead of a full orchestra, and Sellers says they'll probably do it again someday with TSO.

"It's a special occasion though," she says. "It's not going to happen again anytime soon."

Tucson Symphony Orchestra presents the concert Old World Meets New at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, February 20 and 21, and at 2 p.m., Sunday, February 23, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Along with the Schumann work and DeMars' two pieces, the TSO will play "The Miraculous Mandarin Suite" by Béla Bartók. Tickets range from $7 to $26. If any tickets remain 15 minutes before show time, students with valid ID may buy rush tickets for $3. For reservations and information, call 882-8585. TW

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