TSO Quartet to feature works of composers, ages 10 and 18

Something old, something new. That’s a frequent programming gambit for classical ensembles.

But when the Tucson Symphony Orchestra String Quartet — composed of violinists Joseph Rousos-Hammond and Wynne Wong-Rife, violist Ilona Vukovic-Gay and cellist Mary Beth Tyndall — appears at Academy Village at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the group goes beyond that formula. It is bringing something young.

Several somethings, in fact. Two of the compositions on the bill are by student composers who have participated in the TSO’s Young Composers Project and who also have worked with quartet members.

Nicholas Miller and Ben Nead are still very much in their formative years; in fact it’s easy, stealing just a quick peek at the program, to take the dates listed by their names for dates of the compositions they’ve written.

But no: Miller was born in 2003; Nead in 1996.

Nead, a high school senior who’s a cellist as well as a composer, has been Tyndall’s student since age 4. Vukovic-Gay, who directs the Young Composers Project and has worked with Nead in that capacity, calls him an “amazing composer.” His short piece “Eurydice,” which the quartet will play Tuesday, is just one of his string quartet compositions.

Though he is only 10, Miller is also a “seasoned” composer, with orchestral as well as chamber works to his credit. He was inspired to write his “Midnight in Vienna,” also set for Tuesday’s program, by a café concert he heard on a family trip to Vienna last summer.

The concert also includes quartets by composers whose names are already familiar, including Beethoven and Ravel.

The only thing missing might be the presence of the two youngest composers featured.

“They have school. I don’t think they can be there,” Vukovic-Gay said.

Susan Issacs Nisbett


Learn how brain solves problems in perfect ways

How perfectly does our brain work?

Has evolution granted us a rich inheritance of tools, or saddled us with artifacts of a distant past, limiting our ability to solve new problems?

William Bialek, a physics professor at Princeton University, offers a positive answer to such questions in a recorded lecture titled “More Perfect Than We Think” Wednesday at the Arizona Senior Academy.

Bialek’s talk was originally given in March as part of the University of Arizona’s annual science lecture series, this year titled “The Evolving Brain.” As in past years, the Arizona Senior Academy is bringing these lectures — live or via podcast — to audiences. Wednesday’s two-hour program will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Many other animals, from insects to our fellow primates, do many equally remarkable things, but Bialek will present several examples of how the human brain solves problems in an essentially perfect way.

From its ability to appreciate beauty to the reassembly of distant childhood memories to our almost unthinking ability to respond to the unexpected, Bialek argues that our brains really do a remarkable job at solving the problems we confront as we move through the world.

Bialek has been involved throughout his career in helping establish biophysics as a sub-discipline within physics and helping biology absorb the quantitative intellectual tradition of the physical sciences.

He is the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics at Princeton, and Visiting Presidential Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees in biophysics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Janet Kerans

Next Thursday

‘Desert Dreams’ musician

to speak at film screening

“Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert,” a film by Thomas Wiewendt with music by Gary Stroutsos, will be the featured presentation at the Arizona Senior Academy at 2:30 p.m. next Thursday. The film explores the richness and beauty of our desert, showing an astonishing 182 species of plants and animals.

Gary Stroutsos, a master musician who has explored the music of many cultures, especially Native American, will discuss the film and demonstrate some of the 29 musical instruments he used in it.

The film has been described as “an immersive multimedia experience with no narration, a creative blend of HD video footage, time-lapse imagery, stills, natural sounds and ‘organic music.’ ”

Stroutsos has collected flutes from around the world, including an American Indian flute that dates back 2,000 years. He has devoted years to learning about the music traditions of the native flute, and has created beautiful original compositions as well as renditions of old songs.

Now retired after a long and distinguished career, he continues to share his passion for native music, concentrating on outreach to underserved communities.

Betty Feinberg