Levi Powe with his cello on May 5, 2018. Powe is a seven-year participant in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Young Composers Project.

Most young musicians would only dream of seeing their original composition performed by a complete orchestra.

Not if José Luis Gomez has it his way.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra music director wants the programming of new works by young Tucson composers to be a regular feature of the orchestra.

“I look forward to making it visible to the Tucson community and to the orchestral world as much as possible so it becomes the real identity that the TSO has, which is promoting and nurturing the future of classical music, not only empowering instrumentalists or future audience members, but empowering the next generation of composers of the American musical landscape,” Gomez said in an email interview last week while guest-conducting in Canada.

This weekend, Gomez will conduct the TSO in reading sessions of original student compositions from members of the orchestra’s Young Composers Project. Performances are at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive.

The concerts cap the four-day Young Composers Festival, which begins Thursday, May 17, and includes free workshops, lectures, expert panels and performances by the orchestra to mark the end of the project’s 25th year. The Young Composers Project, open to youths 8 to 18, gives students the tools and resources to compose music, and the opportunity to hear their original works played by a full orchestra, an experience Gomez calls “priceless.” TSO assistant principal violist Ilona Vukovic-Gay is the project’s longtime instructor.

The TSO program is the largest and longest running of its kind, producing 375 original student compositions to date.

“It enhances these young artists as complete musicians,” said Vukovic-Gay.


The Young Composers Project is open to youths 8 to 18. Claire Thai and Levi Powe have been in the program for seven years. The Young Composers Festival starts Thursday, May 17.

Included with the workshops this year, guests will get to try their hand at composing, to get a taste of the work the students have been doing from September to May, Vukovic-Gay said.

Among the students whose works will be performed at the festival is high school senior Claire Thai, a harp player who has been with the project for seven years.

“It’s such a great experience,” Claire said. “It’s prepared me for appreciating music in general. You don’t consider the aspect of what goes into composing.”

The experience of working on the project leaves a lasting impact on the participating students. Levi Powe, a 17-year-old cellist, has written four pieces for the full TSO during his seven years with the project.

“I don’t take it lightly, having the orchestra play it,” Powe said about hearing his original works performed by TSO.

Powe is finishing his fifth piece, which will be performed at the festival.

“I clearly see it going bigger and more intense, and it is my dream that this pioneer program that started 25 years ago becomes the pride and joy of the whole Tucson community,” Gomez said.


Claire Thai and other students at a session of the Young Composers Project earlier this month.

Leah Carole Gilchrist is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing with the Star.