Viola-piano recital to feature 2 renowned musicians

When violist Hong-Mei Xiao and pianist Tannis Gibson team up for a recital at Academy Village at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the audience will hear a program of early 20th century English music composed for the viola and played by two consummate musicians and faculty artists from the University of Arizona School of Music.

Although written more than 80 years ago, two of the works are so rarely played they may be new to many listeners.

A highlight of the recital will be William Walton’s “Viola Concerto,” composed in 1929.

“It is the very center of the viola repertoire,” Xiao said in a recent telephone conversation. “The 1961 revision of the work is more often played, but I want people to know the original score because it is more dynamic and tonally richer.”

The program will also include Arnold Bax’s “Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra,” an “intensely lyrical” piece, Xiao said. “The slow movement is based on an Irish folk song about a girl with brown hair.”

Elements of English folk songs appear in the final piece, the virtuosic “Suite for Viola and Orchestra” by Vaughn Williams.

In June, Xiao will travel to Hungary and record the program over the radio with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra for Naxos. She was the first violist to record both the original and revised versions of the Bartok “Viola Concerto,” and her 2013 CD featuring the viola works of Ernest Bloch was named “Critics’ Choice” by American Record Guide.

A native of China, Xiao’s first mentor was her father, a noted violinist and composer. She caught the attention of the music world when she won the prestigious Geneva International Music Competition and the Patek Philippe Grand Prize.

Canadian-born Gibson, a seasoned international performer, moves between the roles of soloist, accompanist and member of a chamber ensemble, winning critical acclaim. Classical Music, a London magazine, recently chose her recording of “Song of the Birds” with cellist Nancy Green as “CD of the Fortnight.” The Monticello Trio’s CD of Nicholas Maw’s “Piano Trio,” with Gibson as pianist, was nominated for a Gramophone Award.

Caroline Bates


How wet, dry forces shape Sky Island-area watersheds

Sky Islands — mountains so high above the desert floor that they have their own environment — influence not only the mountains themselves but also the watersheds beneath them.

The intersection of a harsh physical landscape exposed to very wet and very dry conditions, and the adaptive biological processes that result, has given rise to ecological communities unique to the Sky Islands of the desert Southwest.

Saguaro National Park’s Rincon Mountains are simultaneously influenced by rushing runoff from modern-day rainstorms and geologic events hundreds of millions of years ago.

“Rock, Flood, Fire and Ice: Life Support in a Southwestern Sky Island Watershed” will be the topic of the third Water Sustainability Seminar at the Arizona Senior Academy from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The speakers — Don Swann, Colleen Fillipone and Chuck Perger, all with the National Park Service at Saguaro National Park — will give insights gained from more than 15 years of biological and hydrological studies that are beginning to show the relationships between the geology, water, climate and biology in the park.

Key topics will include the dynamics of Rincon Creek, perennial mountainside pools locally known as tinajas, and the results of surveys of animals that depend on water, including aquatic frogs, large mammals and birds.

How can pools in the mountainside be perennial, in the midst of long-term desert heat? Why is Rincon Creek dry except in rainy seasons, even though runoff from the mountains occurs? What effect do the Rincon Mountains have on Rincon Valley aquifers?

Swann is a wildlife biologist who has worked on water issues at the park for more than 15 years. Fillipone is a hydrologist with the Park Service’s Intermountain Region, providing technical assistance for 11 years. Perger is a retiree from Raytheon who has been volunteering at the park for the last 11 years.

Ted Hullar

April 10

Social life shapes emotions, brain researcher shows

Social life is the main source of our emotions. Emotions are linked to our “social brain,” and the brain’s emotive part is connected to learning and memory. What you learn through emotion is difficult to erase.

“Our primary research goal is to understand the neural basis of emotion,” said professor Katalin Gothard, who presented recent research findings during her talk, “The Ancestors in Our Brains” at the UA College of Science’s annual Science Lecture Series, the theme this year being “The Evolving Brain.”

As in past years, the Arizona Senior Academy is bringing these lectures to Tucson’s East Side audiences. Gothard’s presentation will be a video recording of her original talk, shown on the big screen in the Arizona Senior Academy Great Room at 3:30 p.m. April 10.

Highlighting similarities between the primate and the human brain, Gothard will explore a common basis with emotions and social behavior. For example, the primate brain contains a class of neurons active only during social interaction involving eye contact.

“Emotion facilitates learning and puts it into an enhanced higher gear,” Gothard said. “The ancient molecules and core circuits that make us social and emotional beings interface harmoniously with brain structures which make us thinkers and inventors of technology.”

A neurosurgeon by training, Gothard holds both medical and doctoral degrees. She now focuses on neuroscience research involving emotions, learning and social behavior. She is a UA associate professor in the departments of physiology and neuroscience and at the UA’s Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.

George Scholz