The Tucson Chamber Artists, a professional ensemble, will move away from its classical core with folk songs, spirituals.

Tucson Chamber Artists

Tucson Chamber Artists is heading back to Catalina and Oro Valley to open its 10th season this weekend.

It’s the second year that the professional choir has kicked off its season outside of its main stages in Tucson. And the second year it has done it with music that strays from its classical music core.

“Our programming has become more diverse each year. We are covering a spectrum of different types of music,” said founder/conductor Eric Holtan, who has mined some gems from the trove of American folk songs and spirituals for the kickoff concert.

Last season opened with a similar program and proved such a big hit that on Saturday and Sunday, the choir returns to those same venues — churches with sizable halls.

“We absolutely packed them in so this year we are going back to those venues but we are adding a performance in Tucson,” said Holtan.

The folk concert kicks off a season that takes the choir back to its early days with an encore of Mozart’s C minor Mass — the chorus performed it to critical acclaim in 2006 — and takes it to its future — its first subscription concert in the Phoenix area.

“When I started this organization, I had no idea what I was getting into,” said Holtan, who formed the ensemble when he was finishing his doctoral degree at the University of Arizona. “We’ve seen consistent growth from the very first season. That first season was a pilot.”

Since that first year, TCA has:

•Gone from an annual budget that amounted to whatever it collected in ticket sales to this year’s $350,000 budget, a big chunk of that coming from contributors.

• Seen its subscriber base increase year after year; this year,  it has already seen a 20 percent uptick in series subscribers, bringing the number to 342.

• Challenged its artistry even as the economy challenged them. For the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks two years ago, TCA commissioned nationally known composer Stephen Paulus to write a monumental oratorio to commemorate the attacks. TCA benefactor Dorothy Vanek put up the $50,000 to pay Paulus’s fee.

And it isn’t finished yet.

This season Holtan and his choir, along with the TCA chamber orchestra, will tackle the challenge of Bach’s “St. John Passion.” Performances begin in late February.

“We are doing more challenging music because I think the level of our artistry has been increasing,” Holtan said.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.