SIERRA VISTA — Toru Tagawa, the Sierra Vista Symphony’s conductor and music director, will open the new season of performances with one of his favorite pieces of music from Beethoven, his favorite composer. And it’s the very first single note of the “Egmont Overture” — a sustained F — that opens the story’s intrigue.
“It keeps the audience on its toes,” Tagawa said. “‘What’s gonna happen?’”
At rehearsal this past Saturday at the Buena Performing Arts Center, the symphony itself was learning just what comes next. It was the first time the full orchestra had been together, so the order of the day was a little less on storytelling and more on refining the sound. Stops and starts are to adjust arrangements and tempos and to let each section know on which measure they should come blasting in.
“In a way, the conductor is like a chef. Here’s the ingredient and then what you do with the ingredient is up to you. And I can do it however I want,” Tagawa said. “That’s the challenge also.”
Tagawa has previous experience with the “Egmont Overture,” which he calls “a classical standard.” He led the Tucson Repertory Orchestra, which he started in 2011, through the piece among his stops prior to becoming the Sierra Vista Symphony’s newest conductor over the summer. He was one of three finalists for the position to each lead a performance last season.
The symphony’s 22nd season opens this Saturday with Tagawa on the conductor’s rostrum. The Fall Concert — with the theme “New Beginning” — will be the first of three performances through next April.
Tagawa chose “Egmont Overture” for its dramatic story. Beethoven composed the piece during the Napoleonic Wars, and it tells the life and heroism of the Count of Egmont, a 16th-century Dutch nobleman.
“In the music you hear the arrest of the Count. You hear, in the deep strings, the Spanish judges prosecuting him. You hear, in the plaintive wind, his wife, mother of his 11 children, pleading for mercy for her husband,” classical host and broadcaster John Suchet wrote of “Egmont” for classicfm.com. “You hear, in the fortissimo staccato notes of the brass, the verdict of guilty being given. A final piano pleading in the first violins. The whole orchestra in unison on a single note is the sentence of death. A forte fall of a fourth in first and second violins is the executioner’s sword coming down.”
The evening’s second selection brings in Mark Rush, former University of Arizona professor, as a violin soloist for “Violin Concerto No. 1” by German composer and conductor Max Bruch. “Violin Concerto No. 1” debuted in 1866.
“It’s one of the most standard violin concertos that I love,” Tagawa said. “Many kids play this concerto in high school or college or graduate school. It’s just a fantastic piece.”
Rush has played all over the world and has taught at Arizona and the University of Virginia. Most recently he joined the music faculty at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.
Having Rush play on the Bruch piece has many personal ties for Tagawa. Tagawa’s wife studied under Rush during her doctoral program at the U-of-A, and Tagawa’s 4-year-old son Max is named after Max Bruch.
“It’s very personal for me to have this concerto,” Tagawa said.
The evening’s third selection will be “Symphony No. 8” by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.
Looking ahead, the Winter Concert in January will have an “All-American” theme and will feature selections like Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
The American theme is particularly special for Japan native Tagawa who in April of this year became a U.S. citizen.
“It was fantastic. After 24 years living in America I’m an American now,” said the 10-year resident of Tucson. “It was a long process, let me tell you.”