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Tucson Symphony Orchestra Young Composer Project alum returns, guests as soloist

Nicholas Mariscal is coming home to perform. He will solo with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra on Aram Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody for Cello.

A decade ago, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra programmed Tucson native Nicholas Mariscal’s composition “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” on a Masterworks concert.

It was the first time the TSO featured the work of a Young Composers Project alumnus on a subscription concert.

This weekend, they are shining an even bigger spotlight on the Tucson native.

Mariscal will solo with the orchestra on Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian’s dramatic Concerto-Rhapsody for Cello.

It is the first of what Music Director/Conductor José Luis Gomez hopes will be routine for the orchestra, bringing back talented young musicians who made their mark with the orchestra as kids to return several years later as soloists.

“I’m thrilled to have the chance to come back and play with my hometown orchestra,” Mariscal said earlier this month from Florida, where he is a first-year fellow of the New World Symphony, a post-graduate training program for “exceptionally gifted” musicians. NWS alumni have gone on to leadership and principal roles in orchestras around the country including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony, Metropolitan Opera and midsize orchestras around the country.

“I got to know so many of the (TSO) members from participating in YCP, and even though the orchestra has changed in a lot of ways since I left Tucson eight or nine years ago, I am really excited to come back and play with them,” added Mariscal, 26, who graduated with his master’s degree last spring from the University of Southern California after earning his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University.

Mariscal said the Khachaturian work is fairly obscure. It was composed in 1963 for one of the greatest cellists of all times, Mstislav Rostropovich, who played the world premiere.

“It’s really not performed very often and there are only a handful of recordings,” said Mariscal, who is familiar with the piece but has never performed it in concert. “I think it’s a really fantastic and exciting piece and it’s a real challenge for the cellist.”

The challenge starts after the horn intro when the cellist is put through a five-minute unaccompanied cadenza that Mariscal described as “daunting.”

He will perform the piece twice this weekend.

Back in Florida, he performs regularly with the New World Symphony in between auditioning for orchestras around the country. Among them, he said, he has auditioned for principal cello roles with orchestras in Detroit, Vancouver and Colorado.

Also on this weekend’s program is a world premiere of a TSO commission, “In the Kingdom of Bells” by New Jersey composer Scott Ordway.

In program notes, Ordway, a celebrated composer that the Boston Globe described as “an American response to Sibelius,” described “In the Kingdom” as “a meditation on a simple, but fantastical idea, the sound of all the world’s bells ringing at once. An unseen force calling bells large and small to life or,” he adds, “some occasion of such overwhelming and universal joy that we, the community of humanity, organize a global festival of bells as the only commensurate response.”

Spanish conductor Josep Caballé Domenech will be at the podium for this weekend’s concerts.

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

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