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Music by the Numbers

The TSO's upcoming season holds enough specials and regulars for music lovers to count on

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The next Tucson Symphony season, just announced this week, is a nest of math puzzles.

First, there's music director George Hanson's formula for programming a concert: "I like to have one work that's extremely well known, plus one work that's a lesser-known piece by a well-known composer, plus one piece that very few people in the audience probably know. That way, they walk into a concert with one favorite, and walk out with two or maybe three favorites."

Second, there's the puzzle of how to put together a schedule that's both artistically and fiscally responsible, at a time when the orchestra is paying its bills, yet not, strictly speaking, breaking even, and season subscriptions are declining.

"Our financial health is good, particularly in the context of American orchestras these days," says TSO executive director Susan Franano. She's referring to the tendency of orchestras large and small to post heavy deficits, requiring emergency fund-raising campaigns, schedule cutbacks and reduction of musicians' salaries. "We don't carry debt," she says. "Our balance sheet indicates positive liquidity."

Yet she admits that the orchestra's costs exceed its total income. "We cover the shortfall with existing assets and unexpected, significant bequests, for which we're grateful, but on which we cannot budget going forward."

One problem the orchestra needs to address is its relatively small endowment. A fund of $1.7 million, generating interest that can be used for operational costs, sounds like quite a chunk of change. But according to the nonprofit rule of thumb, on its budget of $4.1 million, the orchestra really should boost the endowment to $16 to $20 million.

Meanwhile, though, the TSO doesn't seem to be engaging in emergency-mode programming. True, it's spreading a Mozart festival through its various series, which looks like a way to boost ticket sales while reducing musician expenses (Mozart requires a smaller orchestra than Tchaikovsky). But Hanson insists this isn't a cost-containment measure; he had been contemplating a Russian festival of some sort, which wouldn't be cheap, but settled on Mozart for the logical reason that 2006 is the 250th anniversary of that composer's birth.

And while the schedule emphasizes scores that are already in the orchestra's library or don't require hefty rental or royalty fees, the programming does venture beyond the usual Beethoven and Brahms.

For starters, there's the little matter of Mahler's Symphony No. 3, promised for April 2006. Clocking in at 90 to 105 minutes, depending on tempos, it's not only the longest symphony in the standard repertory, but it requires a beefed-up orchestra, a mezzo soloist and women's and children's chorus. Hanson promises that the Mahler Third will be "our pinnacle moment" in the upcoming season.

"This is my 10th season with the orchestra," says Hanson, "and I can do anything I want. I just can't do everything I want. So I chose the Mahler Third; it's the Mahler symphony that achieves the most extraordinary emotional impact." This will be the work's first professional performance in Tucson.

In an effort to remind people in a city with a long and deep Hispanic heritage that classical music isn't just the stuff of dead white guys, the TSO is threading Latin American music and musicians through the season. Things get underway in late September with Fandangos by Roberto Sierra. In May, Guillermo Figueroa will be the guest conductor for a concert that includes Julián Orbon's Tres Versiones Sinfónicas, which sounds like what Aaron Copland might have written in the 1940s had he been a Latin-American composer interested in medieval music. Also, Homero Ceron will emerge from the percussion section to solo in a vibraphone concerto by one Emmanuel Séjourné.

Of course, the season includes a full quota of old favorites, including the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Dvorák's Brahmsian Symphony No. 7, Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, treatments of Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, and a whole trunkful of Mozart, including the "Haffner" and 40th symphonies, the first violin concerto and the Requiem.

As for guest soloists, Christopher O'Riley will play Prokofiev's dynamic Piano Concerto No. 3; a necessarily unspecified medalist from the upcoming Van Cliburn competition will play an unspecified but no doubt popular piano concerto; and Kyoko Takezawa will solo in the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Among the more offbeat attractions are Hanson appearing as piano soloist in a Mozart concerto; an all-American program featuring loveable crossover bassist Edgar Meyer in one of his own concertos, along with Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Samuel Barber's compelling Symphony No. 1; Richard Strauss' first tone poem, Macbeth; Arnold Schoenberg's orchestration of a Brahms piano quartet; a new piece by Jeffery Cotton, whose music the TSO will also be playing in the next few weeks; and, on the chamber-orchestra series, a mostly Verdi program plus Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, the Ives Third Symphony sandwiched between Mozart pieces, and an odd assortment beginning with music of Peter Maxwell Davies, continuing with the horn concerto by Richard Strauss' father, Franz, and ending with Haydn's "London" Symphony.

There are also special concerts, including pianist Peter Serkin playing Stravinsky and Mozart, Handel's Messiah, and one-night pops appearances by Marvin Hamlisch and Manhattan Transfer. Add to all this the usual five-concert pops series plus other performances, and you have a pretty busy orchestra.

A CD narrated by Hanson with previews of coming attractions is being mailed to current subscribers. Otherwise, information is available at www.tucsonsymphony.org.

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