The performing arts scene in the Old Pueblo is about to explode.
That’s exciting, but it presents a dilemma: what to see. Sure, if we all had unlimited time and unlimited funds, it wouldn’t be such a tough choice.
But most of us don’t. So, we’ve asked some fans to tell us which events they would not miss. And we’ve a few ideas of our own.
This is by no means a comprehensive list — you’ll find more at tucson.com/calendar. But these are definitely expected to be among the highlights of the first half of the performing arts season.
Tucson’s classical music scene is rich and vast. This is an especially hard category to narrow down.
But we would be fools to mark Yo Yo Ma off the list. The cellist performs the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Dec. 5 at the Tucson Music Hall. Everyone we asked for this story said the concert was at the top of their list, including classical music lover and artist Jack McLain. The Elgar, he says, “is a truly iconic piece with accessibility to a broad audience. It is a piece that wears its emotional power on its sleeve.”
McLain’s other must-see: The Pavel Haas Quartet playing an Arizona Friends of Chamber Music program that includes Schubert’s Quartet in A minor, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp Minor, and Smetana’s Quartet No 1 in E minor. The Czech ensemble performs Oct. 18 at the Leo Rich Theater. “The Pavel Haas Quartet is a world-class string quartet that is second to none on the material featured in this performance,” says McLain.
Actor and opera singer Dennis Tamblyn plans on getting tickets to the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell,” Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. “Rachmaninov and Beethoven?” says Tamblyn. “Please sign me up ASAP.” It will be at DesertView Performing Arts Center Nov. 18, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Nov. 19. Paraguayan conductor Diego Sánchez Haase is at the helm.
This is the inaugural season for Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, José Luis Gomez, and we figure the season opener has got to be impressive. The Sept. 22 and 24 program at the Tucson Music Hall, led by Gomez, features TSO playing — for the orchestra’s first time — Venezuelan composer Inocente Carreno’s lively and often lush “Margariteña,” which incorporates folk and popular songs from the composer’s home country. Also on the program is Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist Zhang Zuo — it’s her first time doing the piece in concert — and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan.”
UA Presents brings Olga Kern to Centennial Hall Oct. 26. The program hasn’t been announced, but the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medal winner is a mesmerizing pianist. She could play “Chopsticks” and we would be there.
The TSO teams up with Mariachi los Camperos in a concert that will launch Tucson’s All Souls Procession weekend in November. It’s a performance that actress Liz Cracchiolo Samani won’t miss. “Can’t wait to see this,” she says. “Musically wonderful, but also culturally important, blending two different styles. And hopefully it will introduce each music’s fans to the other style.” It’s slated for Nov. 3 at the Tucson Music Hall.
The New York City-based early music ensemble Tenet comes to St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church Nov. 12 courtesy of the Arizona Early Music Society. They will perform music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries and will be joined by sopranos Jolle Greenleaf and Molly Quinn, who are young and gaining acclaim. “Their voices carefully matched in purity and expression,” reported the New York Times.
The Harlem Quartet will start out its Nov. 15 Arizona Friends of Chamber Music performance with Debussy’s Quartet in G Minor and then will segue into Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Finally, they will be joined by Cuban jazz/classical composer and pianist Aldo López-Gavilán for a number of his original pieces. He won over the Washington Post when he played the Kennedy Center with the Harlem Quartet last year: “He’s a terrific composer, with range, imagination and technique.” The performance will be at the Leo Rich Theatre.
If funds are limited but you need a classical music fix, here are a few suggestions of under-$8-events that are worth much more:
A Sept. 9 concert of Mexican classical music will feature Sonoran artists Christopher Roldan, tenor, soprano Valeria G. Quijada and baritone Luis M. Castillo. Presented by the Consulate General of Mexico and other organizations, it’ll be at Saint Francis in the Valley Episcopal Church in Green Valley. And it’s free.
Also free is Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra‘s Mexican Independence Day Concert Sept. 15 at the Fox Tucson Theatre. SASO musicians will be joined by a mariachi ensemble and the winners of the Linus Lerner International Voice Competition. You can get the tickets from Tucson’s Consulate General of Mexico, which is co-sponsoring the event.
More free: The Civic Orchestra of Tucson performs at Christ Church United Methodist on Oct. 1, and at Sahuarita District Auditorium Oct. 8. The program includes Beethoven’s 7th and works by Johannes Brahms and Béla Bartók.
TSO musicians and Pima Community College faculty members Homero Cerón and Jim Karre perform a program that includes Bach, Stravinsky, Gershwin and Bernstein on Oct. 1 at the PCC West Campus recital hall. Also at PCC, the school’s Wind Ensemble takes over the Proscenium Theatre on Oct. 19 and Nov. 30.
Nearly every theater aficionado we spoke to had The Rogue Theatre’s production of “Celia, A Slave,” at the top of their must-go list.
Marc Pinate, Borderlands Theater’s artistic director, points out that it won the 2015 Yale Drama Series playwriting competition. “I think this award leans toward scripts that are not only excellent from a literary standpoint, but that can be a little more risky, edgy,” says Pinate. “Then with the focus on race and this country’s legacy of slavery in the news these days, it just seems like a play we all need to see right now.”
“Celia” is by Tucsonan Barbara Seyda, and it’s based on the court records of an 1855 trial of a female slave who killed her master after enduring years of rape. It’s Sept. 7-24 at The Rogue.
Actor and University of Arizona theater professor Hank Stratton says Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Marisela Trevino Orta’s “The River Bride” is one he’ll see. “I think that the Latina voice is one that is aching to be heard in the theatre, especially now,” he says.
“The River Bride” pulls from Amazon folklore to tell the story of two sisters. One has given up the dream of true love, the other is about to be married. When a fisherman pulls a stranger out of the water, the sisters are presented with other options for their lives. Performances are Oct. 21-Nov. 11 at the Temple of Music and Art.
Michael Martinez, the executive director of Live Theatre Workshop, will see “Building the Wall” at Borderlands Theater. The rolling premiere by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenk-kan is set in the near future. Millions of immigrants have been detained and put in prisons. The supervisor of a private prison is awaiting sentencing for carrying out the federal policy. It makes for a harrowing drama.
“This company has been doing some amazing, innovative work,” says Martinez about Borderlands. “A portrait of what this border wall would do to our community is very important, and I imagine that an expression of the wall’s aftershock through art will be beautiful, painful and life-changing.” It’s Sept. 27-Oct. 15 at the Temple of Music and Art’s Cabaret Theatre.
Our go-to list includes “Beautiful,” the story of rock ‘n’ roll composer and singer Carole King. Broadway in Tucson is bringing it to Centennial Hall Oct. 4-8. We’ve already started humming songs from her “Tapestry” album.
Playwright Ken Ludwig always makes us laugh, and actor Stephen Frankenfield has spot-on comic instincts. He stars in Live Theatre Workshop’s production of Ludwig’s “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” at LTW Oct. 5-Nov. 11.
We are anxious to see what the new The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre has to offer. Bryan Rafael Falcón is the founding artistic director, and we still remember his sharp direction of The Rogue Theatre’s 2012 production of “The Night Heron.” “Two Plays for Lost Souls” is two short pieces that fit right in with the All Souls season: “The Love Talker” by Deborah Pryor and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A new theater opening with a pair of plays by women — they get special props for that; with a few exceptions, plays by women are painfully, and shamefully, underrepresented on Tucson stages. “Two Plays” is Oct. 19-29 at the revamped Zuzi space in the Historic Y.
The University of Arizona theater department continues to grow in prestige and with talent. Which makes the staging of Tennessee Williams’ riveting “A Streetcar Named Desire” particularly appealing. It’s Nov. 5-Dec. 3 at the intimate Tornabene Theatre in the UA Fine Arts Complex.
Invisible Theatre’s “The Value of Names” intrigues us. It’s about a comic who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Era in the 1950s. He’s making a comeback when his daughter is cast in a play directed by the man who testified against him. The Jeffrey Sweet play is at IT Nov. 7-19.
We are also intrigued by “Popol Vuh — The Story of Seven Macaw,” at the PCC Center for the Arts. Based on the Mayan creation story, it runs Nov. 9-19. “How often do you get a family friendly show, full of spectacle (giant puppets, video projections, singing, physicality, mask work) that highlights the mythological heritage of the Americas?” asks Marc Pinate, who is directing.
A classic Greek tale hits the Winding Road Theater Ensemble stage Oct. 19-Nov. 4 with its production of “An Iliad,” a retelling of Homer’s epic poem by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare. It will be at the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre.
And finally, a classic musical courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company: “The Man of La Mancha,” a retelling of “Don Quixote.” Who wouldn’t want to see that? It’s Dec. 2-31 at the Temple of Music and Art.
Enrique Hank Feldman knows where he will be Oct. 21: Sitting at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church listening to the Helios Ensemble perform Durufle’s Requiem.
“I love the Durufle Requiem,” says Feldman, a musician, composer and educator.
“It hovers and floats harmonically with emotional tension that surfaces slowly, like a great curry that has that slow burn. Also, this professional locally grown choral ensemble has been growing steadily, and this year they have added considerable talent. “
Helios will also perform the piece at Christ the King Episcopal Church on Oct. 22.
That October weekend will be a busy one for Feldman. His other must-see concert is the University of Arizona Symphonic Choir and the school’s Arizona Choir performing a program that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It includes Bach’s “Christ lag in Todesbanden.”
“First of all, I love Bach especially when he hints at musical harmonies ahead of his time,” says Feldman.
“Secondly, I love great choirs that can sing Bach.” The performance is Oct. 22 at Grace St. Paul’s.
True Concord Voices & Orchestra’s “Metamorphosis” program is inspired by Tucson’s All Souls Procession. It includes Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Little Match Girl Passion” by David Lang. The Nov. 2 concert is at Christ the King Episcopal Church; Nov. 3, it will be at Lutheran Church of the Risen Savior in Green Valley; Nov. 4 at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church, and Nov. 5 at Catalina United Methodist Church.
Arizona Repertory Singers’ holiday concert will feature “Ave Maria,” “Virgo Seren”a by Josquin des Pez, the world premiere of “Festival of Lights” by Karen Siegel, and Eriks Esenvalds’ “Stars,” which will have the singers playing wine glasses while they sing. What’s not to love about that? The concerts are Dec. 8 at Christ the King, Dec. 10 at Grace St. Paul’s, Dec. 15 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and Dec. 17 at Christ Church United Methodist.
And the holidays just wouldn’t be right without the Sons of Orpheus and the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus doing the “Christmas at San Xavier” concerts at Mission San Xavier del Bac Dec. 11-14. Dec. 11, the Tucson Girls Chorus joins in. The concerts benefit the restoration and preservation of the mission. Tickets sell out early, so hop to it if you want to have this magical experience — they are sold through Patronato San Xavier.
We like being surprised by our performing arts groups, and this is definitely a surprise: Arizona Opera’s “Hercules vs Vampires” Oct. 15 at the Tucson Music Hall. Operatic singers and an orchestra will sync with the 1961 so-bad-it’s-good movie “Hercules in the Haunted World.” That one should be a hoot — a hoot with some very good music.
Opera buffs who are not seduced by that will be happy to see Arizona Opera is back in the mainstream with its production of Puccini’s “Tosca.” It’s happening Nov. 11 and 12 at the Tucson Music Hall.
And the young Arizona Rose Opera Company is staging “Hansel and Gretel” Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at its new theater in the Tucson Mall.
Jazz fan Bernice Fortin Chesi has her Sept. 23 locked in: She’ll be at the Lodge at Ventana Canyon for the Jazz Legends Live concert, presented by the Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance. And we can’t blame her: The jazz greats gathering that night include Lewis Nash on drums, Jon Faddis on trumpet, Bobby Floyd on piano, Tom Kennedy, bass, and vocals by Niki Harris.
Jazz lover Bret Primack with be there, too. “This year’s lineup includes trumpeter Jon Faddis, who was Dizzy’s Gillespie protégé, and Phoenix-born Lewis Nash, the drummer of choice for both masters and young players, as well as organist Bobby Floyd, a Columbus, Ohio, legend,” Primack says, ticking off the reasons it shouldn’t be missed.
And Chesi and Primack will also be at the Nov. 4 concert of the Tucson Jazz Institute’s award-winning Ellington Band, made up of age-18-and-younger students in love with the music. “There’s a level of professionalism in the group that’s rare among high school students,” says Primack. “Hearing the Ellington Band in concert celebrates the best of America’s home-grown art form, jazz, but also speaks volumes about what happens when dedicated teachers mentor young people to engender their creativity and their spirit of collaboration.” It’s at the DesertView Performing Arts Center.
The Diaspora Showcase features dance and fashion of Africa. And music, glorious music. Performing at the Sept. 16 event is Tunde Jegede, a musician and composer — one of the many instruments he plays is the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge-harp widely used in West Africa. Also on the bill are singer/songwriter Somi, who brings the sounds of East Africa alive, and Grammy-nominated Amochip Dabney. We are there. It’s at the Grand Luxe Hotel and Resort’s event center.
Tejano lovers won’t want to miss the Sept. 23 concert with A.B. Quintanilla & Elektro Kumbia and AJ Castillo in the AVA Amphitheater at Casino del Sol. That’s some seriously good music.
The joyful sounds of traditional Irish music will come from the acclaimed pair of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. The In Concert performance is Oct. 1 at the Berger Performing Arts Center.
And this is one we are really excited about: Irma Thomas, The Blind Boys of Alabama and The Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet at the Fox Tucson Theatre Oct. 8. The Blind Boys — they’ve won five Grammy Awards — do Gospel like few others; Irma Thomas, also a Grammy winner, has been dubbed “the soul queen of New Orleans” — a city where soul rules, and the Legacy Quintet features some of the best jazz musicians around.
University of Arizona dance students strut their very talented stuff in “Jazz in AZ” at the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre Sept. 26-28. It will include jazz dance, choreography set to a Cuban percussion version of Beethoven’s Pathetique #2, and a piece with 28 dancers and music by Prince.
Ballet Tucson‘s Oct. 6-8 performance at the Stevie Eller will include the “Phantom of the Opera” ballet, the unforgettable “Paquita—Grand Pas Classique” and the Tucson premier of Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet.” And the thrilling Artifact Dance Project presents the world premiere of “Judith” Oct. 12-15 at the Stevie Eller. Choreographed by artistic director Ashley Bowman, it is an adaptation of the Biblical “Book of Judith.” Kevin Justus worked with Bowman to adapt the story, and the live music will be by percussionist Paul Gibson and pianist Richard Hereld, with mezzo-soprano Korby Myrick. We can not resist their performances — they are always new, exciting and gorgeous.
Centennial Hall will be hot Nov. 21 with The Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, courtesy of UA Presents. “It’s always a hot night in Havana wherever and whenever” they perform, says the New York Times.
Things will also get steamy at the Fox Tucson when Tango Buenos Aires: The Spirit of Argentina hits the stage the same day, Nov. 21. You’ll find music, singers and exuberant, excellent dancers.
Tucson is blessed with some wonderful Nutcrackers during December. One of our favorites: Tucson Regional Ballet’s “A Southwest Nutcracker.” It takes the story and plops it into 1880s Tucson, where coyotes and rattlesnakes roam. Making it especially appealing is that the Tucson Symphony Orchestra provides the music. It’s Dec. 9-10 at the Tucson Music Hall.