Perhaps every conductor likes to boast that the coming season — with its slate of concerts and guest artists — will prove better than the last.
However, in the case of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, which on Sept. 25 kicks off its 80th season, Music Director and Conductor George Hanson played it confidently cool as he ticked off a decidedly simple “formula” for continued success.
With each concert, Hanson explained, the TSO tries to start things with a well-known piece, a lesser-known work by a legendary composer and perhaps a work that’s wholly unknown to audiences, but one “we think they will love.”
Add to that mix performances by big names and sure-to-be big names, and voila! You get an 80th TSO season that blends the old and new — from the classics to Broadway, from lively Latin melodies to the merry melodies of Bugs Bunny (you heard that right.)
In fact, the TSO “formula” that Hanson laid out during an interview last week flips the entire, tried-and-true symphonic equation on its head.
“There’s a symphonic concert formula: overture, concerto, symphony,” Hanson said. “We’ve done absolutely everything we can to avoid that.”
Dubbed “A Season to Celebrate,” the TSO’s 80th will feature guest performances by pianist Fabio Bindini; Daniel Binelli playing the bandoneon (the key instrumental ingredient used to power tango’s sensuous sound); the Romero Guitar Quartet; the Smothers Brothers and legendary vocal group The Lettermen, to name but a few.
Of course, the season also will feature a hefty dose of “bread-and-butter, meat-and-potatoes” classic works, from Beethoven and Shostakovich on opening night to Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.
The season marks change for the symphony as well.
Popular concertmaster, violinist Steven Moeckel, will leave for the Phoenix Symphony, but not before the Thursday, Sept. 25, opening night performance.
The TSO this year begins a search for its next concertmaster by conducting a series of interviews before settling on a name, according to spokesperson Terry Marshall.
And the TSO will release its first-ever CD later this month, a collection of little-known works composed by French-Canadian André Mathieu and recorded with internationally acclaimed pianist Alain Lefèvre.
The orchestra has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1928 when a group of civic and business leaders, all of them music lovers, first met to discuss its creation.
The first performance on Jan. 13, 1929, in the Tucson High School auditorium featured Schubert’s “Rosamunde Overture” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
According to TSO records, “local papers hailed the debut as a monumental achievement and said the audience greeted the symphony’s performance with ‘surprise, admiration and bursts of enthusiasm.’”
That’s exactly the same sort of reaction the group and Conductor Hanson still seek today.
And Hanson, one of the TSO’s longest-tenured music directors, expects to get that reaction this season, even as he’s so bold to dedicate an April concert to Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “The Resurrection.”
The homage to the convention-busting composer of the late-romantic period might at first draw derision from some, Hanson suggested, especially from fierce devotees of Richard Wagner.
“But you’ll find that fans of Mahler exceed Wagnerians in their devotion,” Hanson said. “In my mind, (Mahler) represents the pinnacle of the romantic composers in the 19th century.”
Setting aside such a sweeping pronouncement, Hanson thinks the TSO’s upcoming season will offer all that any audience might desire, plus, he’s willing to bet, some things they never would have thought they wanted.