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Concerts in New York, Philly to Honor Tucson Composer Dan Asia

Daniel Asia

Daniel Asia, a classical composer and professor at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, turned 70 in June. The school paid tribute to him in October with a festival of music by Asia, his teachers, and friends. Asia’s birthday celebration will continue this month with concerts of Jewish music in Philadelphia and New York.

Produced by the Network for New Music and partners including the American Society for Jewish Music, the concerts will feature Asia’s song cycle “Breath in a Ram’s Horn: Songs for My Father.

The songs, says Asia, are based on the poetry of the late Paul Pines, his friend and longtime collaborator.

The poems deal with “growing up in a somewhat dysfunctional Jewish family” as the son of a Holocaust survivor, Asia says, and “bring together very disparate worlds, uniting a wealth of emotional perspectives,” with imagery ranging from Ecclesiastes to the blues.

“At the core of the work is man’s uneasy place in the universe,” says Asia, yet the poems often reveal “a wry and delicate sense of humor.”

Asia originally wrote “Breath in a Ram’s Horn” for voice and piano, but he arranged this iteration for what is known as a Pierrot ensemble, which includes flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and voice.

“Dan writes exceptionally beautiful vocal music,” says Thomas Schuttenhelm, NNM artistic director, who chose the piece for the concerts. The Philadelphia performance will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. EST (tickets including a live stream option are available here). The concert at New York’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is on Monday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. EST.

The vocalist will be Daniel Taylor, a tenor who sings with Philadelphia’s The Crossing choir.

“The music is beautiful – not all new music is described in that way,” says Susanna Loewy, NNM executive director, who will be the flutist for the concerts.

Featuring works by other Jewish composers along with Asia, the concerts have been titled “What Do We Know: Exploring the Human Experience Through Jewish Texts and Music.”

Local concerts this spring also will include Asia’s work.

The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will present “Asia and Dvorak” on March 16 and 17. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra will play Asia’s “At the Far Edge as part of its “Holst’s Planets” concert on April 12 and 14.

In addition, Asia is looking forward to the debut of his opera, “The Tin Angel,” which is scheduled to be performed in spring 2025 in New York. The opera has been supported by members of the Tucson Jewish community and the broader local community.

“The Tin Angel” opera is based on a murder mystery of the same name by Pines and is set in a jazz club on the Bowery in New York, inspired by The Tin Palace, a club Pines owned and operated in the 1970s.

Although it will take 13 years to bring the opera from page to stage, Asia jokes that at least he is on track to beat Wagner’s time for “The Ring.”