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Tucson conductor barely made it to home to Brazil, now it could be months before he can return

Tucson conductor barely made it to home to Brazil, now it could be months before he can return

From the May's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Cases rise, judge rules that state can keep nursing home data from public series

Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra Music Director Linus Lerner barely made it out of Tucson on March 16 when all flights to his native Brazil were paused.

Now it could be months before he can return to Tucson after President Trump on Tuesday banned all travel between the United States and Brazil. The ban, which doesn’t prevent American citizens from returning from Brazil, came the day after Brazil recorded the highest single day coronavirus deaths in the world — 807 compared to 620 in the U.S.

“We never got to the top of the peak and we never slowed down either, so we don’t know where the end is,” Lerner said Tuesday from his home in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte.

Lerner, who holds dual citizenship in Brazil and the United States, could face a delay in returning to Tucson because many airlines will not be offering flights. He hopes to be back in Tucson when SASO opens its 2020-21 season in September. But for now, he plans to remain in Brazil, where his parents live.

Lerner splits his time between Brazil, where he conducts the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte, and Tucson, where he has lived since enrolling in the doctorate program at the University of Arizona nearly 20 years ago. Lerner owns homes in Brazil and Tucson, where he became a U.S. citizen in 2010.

Lerner left Tucson on March 16, the day after SASO performed what became its season finale; the volunteer orchestra’s board of directors canceled the season finale days after the coronavirus health crisis was labeled a pandemic on March 11.

He returned to Rio Grande do Norte days before his Brazilian orchestra was to start its season. But soon after he arrived, performing arts were put on hold as the country assessed the pandemic’s impact.

Lerner said Brazil’s response to the virus has been chaotic. While most governors throughout the country ordered businesses closed and advised residents to stay home to prevent the virus’s spread, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, according to media reports, dismissed the virus as “a little flu.” Bolsonaro is solely focused on reopening Brazil’s economy despite warnings from his country’s health officials, Lerner said.

“There are places that were totally locked down and that’s why they are so successful with less cases than the rest of Brazil,” he said, noting that people are required to wear masks in public and in some places can face fines if they don’t.

“Most people do respect that because they are scared of dying,” he said.

Lerner, who lives nine blocks from the nearest beach and can see the ocean in the distance from his high-rise condominium, said he and the orchestra recently transitioned to some online programming, including a series of interviews he has done with Brazilian musical figures; one featured the famous Brazilian composer and arranger Duda Neves.

On Tuesday, teen musicians from his state were expected to compete virtually in a young artist competition that will go nationwide in Brazil in June.

Lerner and his Tucson orchestra will release a video greeting later this week.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

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