World premiere of ASO’s Cello Concerto in Birmingham Jan 17-18. Discount code inside.


Carlos Izcaray of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra
ASO Conductor Carlos Izcaray is also a composer. Photo courtesy of ASO.

If you’re a fan of orchestral music and you haven’t yet seen Maestro Carlos Izcaray conduct the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham, what are you waiting for? If you’re a fan of the cello, you will absolutely love hearing the ultra-talented Santiago Cañón-Valencia in the World Premiere of Izcaray’s cello concerto, Stringmaster. 

Keep reading to find out our nine reasons to make sure you don’t miss one of ASO’s three upcoming performances. If you know you want to go, get tickets now for either the hour-long mid-day coffee concert Jan. 17 or one of two full performances, Jan. 17 and 18, 7PM. Save 15% with code SYMPHONYNOW.

1 You’ll hear Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet at all three performances.

Concertgoers will be able to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s musical interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

2. See the World Premiere of Conductor Carlos Izcaray’s Cello Concerto, Stringmaster at all three shows.

Music Director Carlos Izcaray is also the ASO’s 2020 Sound Investment Composer. I for one didn’t realize that the incredible conductor composes music as well. Or that cello—one of my personal favorites—is his primary instrument.

Stringmaster is his first long-form, multi-movement orchestral work. He wrote it for the ASO and his close friend Santiago Cañón-Valencia. 

When I had the chance to chat with Carlos Izcaray, this is what he had to say:

“Indeed the cello is my instrument, and one that I love very much. It has a range that is exactly the same as the human voice, which makes ideal for great melodic  playing soaring up above. It is equally rewarding to explore the depths of the lower register. 

Our soloist will be the incredible Colombian cellist Santiago Cañón-Valencia. His artistry is fantastic, and I can’t wait to welcome him onstage with the ASO. His virtuosity inspired the name Stringmaster for my cello concerto.”

Carlos Izcaray

3. Cellist Santiago Cañón-Valencia will debut Stringmaster right here in Birmingham.

Santiago Canon-Valencia
Those hands, though. Photo courtesy of ASO.

It’s not every day you get to see the World Premiere of a new piece of music conducted by the composer and played by the artist the conductor had in mind while writing the piece. Birmingham is so fortunate that the guest artist for all three concerts is Izcaray’s close friend, world-renowned cellist Santiago Cañón-Valencia. 

His list of accolades is long, and includes the following: 

  • Winner of the Silver Medal and “Audience Favourite” Award at the 2019 XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition 
  • 2018 Starker Foundation Award winner (at age 23).
  • Third prize winner at the prestigious Queen Elisabeth International Competition 2017 in Brussels.
  • First Prize winner of the Carlos Prieto International Cello Competition, Beijing International Music Competition, Gisborne International Music Competition, and Lennox International Young Artists Competition.

He’s already studied and played around the world, and yes, he’s even met Yo-Yo Ma. Not surprisingly, Cañón-Valencia is already considered one of the most promising cellists of his generation. Also, he’s passionate about new compositions and he already has at least two other World Premieres under his belt.

Check out this video of the Winner’s Gala at the 2019 Tchaikovsky Competition to get an idea of Cañón-Valencia’s gift:

Know you want to go? Get tickets now. 15% off with code SYMPHONYNOW.

4. Stringmaster honors the memory of Izcaray’s former mentor Matthew Hazelwood. 

Matthew Hazelwood
Matthew Hazelwood was Carlos Izcaray’s mentor, and the inspiration for Stringmaster. Photo via Remembering Matthew Hazelwood on Facebook

Carlos Izcaray wrote his cello concerto to honor the memory of his former teacher and conductor. He was a believer in arts education and conducted the Academy Orchestra at Interlochen Arts Academy from 1993-2008. 

“Mathew Hazelwood was a special kind of mentor. He valued music and people equally, and he made sure everyone had a chance. He gave me my very first conducting lesson, and encouraged me to keep practicing it.  

He cared so much for his students that we actually saw him cry from the podium on our very last rehearsal before the end of the school year.”

Carlos Izcaray

Later, he served as the conductor of the Columbian Youth Philharmonic. He was empowering, inspiring, and encouraged his students and colleagues to work together toward a greater good. 

After Hazelwood passed away in 2012, Izcaray had the honor of guest conducting the Columbian Youth Philharmonic. While there, he met cellist Santiago Cañón-Valencia, and the two became friends.

5. Sound Investment, together with the ASO, has created an unforgettable musical experience.

Sound Investment, together with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, helps make it possible for audiences to witness a composer conducting the premiere of his or her own work. 

Think of it as an investing club for people who want to be part of commissioning new music. Instead of, say, a box seat at a football game, investors pay $500 per person or $1000 per couple and enjoy these members-only benefits:

  • Go “behind-the-scenes” to learn the creative process.
  • Get to know the composer and see commission progress at two exclusive Salons.
  • Attend a lunch and full orchestra rehearsal of the commissioned piece.
  • Enjoy the world premiere with two complimentary tickets.
  • Receive a signed copy of the score with your name listed as a commissioner.

The ASO is excited about the possibilities afforded by next year’s Sound Investment Program. If you’d like to join the program in 2021, visit the Sound Investment website

6. Hear Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique—the first piece Izcaray conducted with the ASO—at the Masterworks Concerts Friday and Saturday nights.

When Carlos Izcaray first conducted a piece with the ASO, it was Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. According to people in the know, this is “one of the greatest stories in classical music—one of passion, drama and tragic loss.” Which of course means it’s gorgeous. 

Friday and Saturday night Masterworks concertgoers will be able to feast their ears on this one.

7. Catch a midday concert with the ASO Coffee Series Friday, January 17, 11AM.

Muffins at an ASO Coffee Concert
Come for the Coffee Concert and these muffins could be your breakfast. Photo courtesy of ASO.

For a taste of the symphony just before mid-day, take a break from work or studying with the Coffee Series concert. Invite your friends and come out to this shorter program which will still leave you feeling satisfied. Get there early for the complimentary muffins and coffee. 

Program: this concert features a program to remember: 

  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Overture
  • Carlos Izcaray: Stringmaster Cello Concerto (Sound Investment World Premiere)

When: Friday, January 17, 11AM
Where: UAB’s Alys Stephens Center
Admission: Tickets start at $19. Discounts are available for students, teachers, patrons 40 and under, veterans/active military, and more.

Get tickets. 15% off with code SYMPHONYNOW.

8. The Masterworks Concerts are Friday, Jan. 17 and Saturday, Jan. 18 at 7PM both nights.


  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Overture
  • Carlos Izcaray: Stringmaster Cello Concerto (Sound Investment World Premiere)
  • Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

When: Friday, Jan. 17 & Saturday, Jan. 18, 7PM both nights
Where: UAB’s Alys Stephens Center
Admission: Tickets start at $24 per person. Discounts are available for students, teachers, patrons 40 and under, veterans/active military, and more.
Get tickets. Save 15% with code SYMPHONYNOW.

9. Want to get even more out of the Masterworks Concerts? Come in early for Concert Comments.

Concert Comments with the ASO
Come at 6:15 before the Masterworks Concerts for Concert Comments if you want to get even more out of the show. Photo courtesy of ASO.

Anyone who’d like to learn even more about the Masterworks Series shows is invited to head to the Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center either night at 6:15 for Concert Comments. 

Make sure you don’t miss the World Premiere of Conductor Carlos Izcaray’s World Premiere of Stringmaster, played by Santiago Cañón-Valencia.

There are shows January 17 at 11AM and 7PM and January 18 at 7PM. Get your tickets now and save 15% with code SYMPHONYNOW.

Sponsored by:

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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