The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is pulling out the stops as it heads into the homestretch of the 2016-17 season.

In three performances this weekend, audiences will experience:

  • A veteran and celebrated saxophonist performing a significant work in the limited saxophone solo repertoire.
  • A young pianist who took top honors in the orchestra’s 2017 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition play a movement of a major work.
  • A pair of solo vocalists and the orchestra’s chorus performing Fauré’s Requiem that focuses on faith in the face of death.

A little Russian, a little French — and a little Tucson with the premiere of Tucson composer Richard White’s Fantasy on the Radetzky March, written to remember longtime SASO benefactor Irving J. Olson. Olson, who died in October at 102, once led SASO in a performance of the original Radetzky.

This weekend marks the fourth Tucson concert for Ashu, who has played three other concerts with Arizona Friends of Chamber Music back in the mid-2000s. A 2008 Friends concert included the world-premiere of Ellen Zwellick’s Quintet for Saxophone and String Quartet, which Arizona Friends commissioned with Ashu in mind and which he and the Pacifica Quartet premiered.

Since that first performance, it’s has been played a number of times including in Chicago and Detroit.

“Any time a composer writes you a piece or dedicates a piece for you it’s an honor and a thrill,” Ashu said, speaking from his Chicago home last week. “Her piece is very unique and very identifiable and she’s a fantastic composer. It’s been the perfect combination for this piece to take off as it has.”

This weekend Ashu will perform Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s rarely played, fast-paced Saxophone Concerto, a piece Ashu described as “one of the really great masterpieces and I think one of the best pieces” for saxophone.

“It’s melancholy and often triumphant. I think it’s a fantastic work,” said Ashu, who grew up in Texas and said he loves coming to Tucson. “It’s one of the first places I gave a recital and every time I’ve come back, the audiences have been warm and welcoming. It’s really a special place for me.”

Pianist Nicholas Turner, 17, also will make his SASO debut as the winner of the 2017 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the orchestra. In addition to the $1,000 cash prize, Nicholas, who is home-schooled and lives in Vail, will perform the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, which he performed in the competition.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.