Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra this weekend will host a teen violinist from Phoenix in a concert that also features an internationally known violist from our backyard.
The program for the volunteer orchestra’s “Hong-Mei Xiao and a Masquerade” concerts also includes a sobering work written by a member of the orchestra.
Michael Keifer, the orchestra’s principal trumpet, composed “Psalm 22” after the death of a child, said SASO Music Director Linus Lerner.
“It’s a very deeply religious piece. I don’t normally put on a lot of religious pieces, but it is very beautiful and I really liked it,” Lerner said.
Lerner said Keifer references the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and Psalm 22 in a piece that expresses the breadth of emotions you would expect from someone going through such tragedy: anger, resolution, hope.
“There are instances in the piece where the cello plays these sorrowing melodies that sound like crying,” Lerner said.
A trombone joins the cello to give the piece its religious solemnity; an oboe chimes in on the “Wondrous Cross” movement offering a glimmer of hope.
“It’s so beautiful,” the conductor said. “I really love this piece and SASO is doing a great job with it. I may consider recording it in the future.”
Tucson violist Hong-Mei Xiao, who teaches at the University of Arizona’s Fred Fox School of Music, has performed to critical acclaim on stages throughout the world. She will perform Martinu’s lesser played “Rhapsody” Concerto composed while the Czechoslovakia native was homesick in Paris in the 1920s and ‘30s.
“It’s really pretty and I think Hong-Mei has a wonderful sound to really play this piece wonderfully,” Lerner said. “I wish there was more viola pieces written. The beautiful soul for me is the lower strings.”
Lerner said the concerto was one of Martinu’s earliest attempts at composing in the romantic style. Much of his enormous output — nearly 400 compositions in a career that stretched 50 years — was written in the contemporary, modern style.
“It’s very well (written) and it’s very rich,” Lerner said. “It has nothing to do with the things he’s written before so perhaps it’s one of the most romantic pieces he’s written.”
Also on the program, which the orchestra will perform three times between Friday and Sunday, is Russian composer Aram Il’yich Khachaturian’s “Masquerade” Suite, a work that started as incidental music for the 1941 Russian play of the same name. The suite is comprised of a series of dances from its opening waltz to the galop finale, with rich Morovian folk melodies interspersed.
The concert also will feature 15-year-old violinist Bobae Johnson from Phoenix performing a movement from Saint-Saëns’ Third Violin Concerto. Johnson, the Phoenix Youth Symphony co-concertmaster who has studied violin for seven years, was the winner of the orchestra’s 2015 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition.