Mountain dulcimer player Stephen Seifert premieres Conni Ellisor's "Broad Band of Light" with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.


For Stephen Seifert, deciding where to perform the world premiere of Conni Ellisor's new work was a no-brainer.

He pulled out his cellphone and typed a text message to Tucson Symphony Orchestra Conductor George Hanson: "Would you premiere a piece for mountain dulcimer and full orchestra?" he asked.

Hanson texted back moments later: "Yes. Let's talk soon."

"It was one of the first texts I ever sent," Seifert recalled last week from home in Kentucky as he prepared to come out to Tucson for this week's premiere of "Broad Band of Light."

This is his second solo appearance with the orchestra. He was here in 2008 to perform Ellisor's other dulcimer-orchestra work "Blackberry Winter." The idea of escaping Kentucky's icy winter for five performances in the desert - the first was Wednesday in Ajo and concerts continue tonight through Sunday - was incentive enough. But Seifert said he was also impressed with the orchestra on his last visit and with the audience response.

"I had a really good time in Tucson and I got along with everybody there. Everybody was really upbeat and positive, especially about my instrument," Seifert said. "The conductor just had a great, fun attitude. They're good players, too. … I remember the first rehearsal with them I thought, 'These guys can play.' "

Seifert commissioned Ellisor to write "Broad Band of Light" after soliciting donations in an online campaign about 18 months ago. He had some specific ideas of what he wanted: a showpiece for the dulcimer that was easy on the ears and challenging on the skills scale.

"I don't really get those opportunities that will be trial by fire experiences," he said, explaining that he does a handful of concerts with orchestras, but spends most of his career doing festivals and dulcimer gatherings. "In the last few weeks, especially, I've just really been working this piece, pushing the tempos and playing more notes than a dulcimer player would normally play. For me it's an exciting opportunity to get better as a musician. And I really like Conni's piece."

The five-movement work is bookended by movements heavy with traditional fiddle sounds, Seifert explained. In the second movement, Ellisor leaves room for the dulcimer to improvise.

"I'm excited about the fact that ... I just get to make up stuff that I think is appropriate and fits my technique and interests," explained the 38-year-old father of two.

The third movement breaks a bit from contemporary themes and hints at Bach.

"I see these musicians playing Bach on instruments that Bach didn't know about, like a guitar. So I wanted to do something that at least had a Baroque feel to it," Seifert explained. "So she wrote this and maybe it's just a minute long. It's very quick and it's technically demanding for my instrument. That's a nice little wink for the audience there."

The fourth movement borrows from an African-American spiritual, with a great melody and "some really neat lyrics," Seifert said.

"It's a fun piece. It's for people, it's not just for the composer. It's a listenable piece that people will enjoy, and folks in the audience familiar with the folk realm will recognize some of the melodies," he said.

Seifert said he hopes to perform "Broad Band of Light" with other orchestras and possibly record it, with the hope that it brings new audiences to an instrument that has been around for centuries but is still not well known.

"It's the simplest instrument you can make. It's a box with strings on it," he said. "But it's not really a part of recorded history in America very much. ... It's kind of under the radar."

If you go

• What: Tucson Symphony Orchestra 'American Portraits.'

• Featuring: Stephen Seifert on mountain dulcimer.

• When and where: 7:30 p.m. today at West Social Center, 1111 Via Arco Iris, Green Valley; 8 p.m. Friday at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, 7650 N. Paseo Del Norte, Oro Valley; and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive.

• Tickets: $39 with discounts for Green Valley by calling 625-0288; two-for one tickets at $45 to $55 for St. Andrew's through the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, 797-3959, Ext. 9; $40 to $50 for Catalina Foothills High School through or by calling 882-8585.


• Charles Ives' "Three Places in New England."

• Copland's Three Latin-American Sketches.

• Copland's "Quiet City."

• Conni Ellisor's "Broad Band of Light" (world premiere).