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Tucson Desert Song Festival to honor women, late founder Forsythe with '22 fest

Tucson Desert Song Festival to honor women, late founder Forsythe with '22 fest

Susanna Phillips

Soprano Susanna Phillips joins True Concord Voices & Orchestra for the 2022 Tucson Desert Song Festival.

Tucson Desert Song Festival organizers had this vision a few years ago to celebrate the enormous contribution women make in the arts.

And this year, the stars seemed to align to do just that.

The festival and its nine performing arts partners will present nearly 50 performances celebrating “Women of Song,” with a world premiere of a new work by a Pulitzer Prize-winning female composer and an enviable lineup of artists whose resumes include regular appearances at some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and concert halls.

“It was kind of serendipitous that all of our partners started hiring women,” song festival Board President Jeannette Segel said. “Arizona Opera doing ‘Carmen’? What could be more female oriented than doing ‘Carmen’ with its strong female character?”

The festival opens Jan. 9 with a recital by soprano Ailyn Pérez and pianist Abdiel Vásquez presented by the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, one of the festival’s longtime partners. The festival runs through March 19 and will feature five recitals including soprano Susanna Phillips, winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Opera Beverly Sills Artist Award, and Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, making her second Tucson appearance after performing in the 2015 song festival.

The 2022 event also includes the world-premiere of the festival’s third commission, by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

Higdon joins composers Richard Danielpour (2020) and Jake Heggie (2021) who were commissioned as part of the TDSF Wesley Green Composer Project. Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke will perform the premiere on Jan. 20.

The commissioning project is a keystone to the festival that has helped establish its bonafides worldwide, something that co-founder Jack Forsythe and festival coordinator George Hanson knew early on “would be a critical part of elevating the festival to national stature and, eventually, international,” Hanson said.

“And that has proven true,” he said. “We have created, I would say on a proportional basis, the strongest arts organization that has ever been and had roots in Tucson.”

Forsythe, who founded the festival with Cecile Follansbee, died in spring 2020 after a long battle with cancer. The 2022 festival is dedicated to his memory.

“When you add up Susanna Phillips, Susan Graham and Ailyn Pérez, Jack would be jumping up and down with joy,” said Segel, who had worked closely with Forsythe since the two served on the Arizona Opera board in 2007. “He would have loved these singers. And we are following in his tradition.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at On Twitter @Starburch

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