Former TSO Music Director George Hanson Talks Tucson Desert Song Festival/TSO Partnership

by Tucson Symphony
Former TSO Music Director George Hanson Talks Tucson Desert Song Festival/TSO Partnership

The day after former TSO Music Director George Hanson left the symphony in 2015, he began his tenure as the director of the Tucson Desert Song Festival (TDSF). “I literally switched sides of the table and coming from TSO I brought a unique perspective to TDSF.” The festival was formed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2010 with the mission of elevating Tucson to a world-class destination for music lovers by coordinating, subsidizing, and publicizing a unique classical voice festival. The TSO is just one of the participating organizations in the festival which also include True Concord Voices & Orchestra, Arizona Arts Live, Arizona Opera, the Tucson Guitar Society, Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, Arizona Early Music Society, Ballet Tucson, and the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music. The annual festival presented its inaugural performances February 8–17, 2013.

In fact, Hanson and the TSO have been a part of the festival from the very beginning. The TDSF performance on February 17, 2013, was the first time Hanson and TSO partnered with the festival. The performance was Verdi’s Requiem under Hanson’s baton, making this year’s partnership an anniversary of sorts. The planning for this season’s Requiem partnership on March 22 and 24 started 2 years ago when the TSO approached the TDSF about the collaboration “Generally, our business plan is to simply allow our partner organizations to come to us. The TSO came to us and said, ‘we want to do Verdi’s Requiem and here are the singers that we want to work with’ and we signed off on the grant that would support the singers’ fees,” said Hanson in a phone interview. The festival organizers do not suggest repertoire but do occasionally suggest singers if requested.  “We enable our partner groups to bring singers whose fees would typically be out of range for a regional performing arts group. I have found a great deal of satisfaction in being able to help enable our partner organizations, including TSO, to hire the greatest singers in the country straight from stages like the Met.”

The original goal of the festival was to make Tucson a cultural destination. “We want people to open their copy of Opera News in the fall and to see our ad which will tell them who is singing in Tucson and that’s happening all around the country now. More and more, we’re getting calls from California and from New Jersey asking us how they can book multiple tickets and so forth. Whether it’s the jazz art portion or it’s a recital, or the opera or the symphony, we’re very positively expanding our financial base. So, we will be able to continue supporting our partners for the foreseeable future.”

TDSF goes beyond directly financially supporting its partner organizations Hanson went on to explain. “One of the great things about the festival was the realization that this was a real net positive for our partners. We’ve been able to really funnel not only our grants to the organizations, but also new donors that are giving and even serving on the board who really had much less connection with TSO. So, we’re thrilled about the way that works. The festival itself is an engine for supporting multiple groups.”

George Hanson retired his baton in 2019 after a performance with the Chicago Symphony and is now working strictly on the management side with an orchestra in the Washington, DC area, where he lives. He travels to Tucson several days each month for TDSF meetings.

Performances of Verdi’s Requiem under the baton of Maestro José Luis Gomez are on Friday, March 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday, March 24 at 2:00pm and feature Katie van Kooten, soprano, Ronnita Miller, mezzo-soprano, Mario Chang, tenor, Morris Robinson, bass, and the TSO Chorus.