Bittersweet Symphony

When Michael Beckner’s wife, Sue, succumbed to breast cancer in 2009 after a nine-year battle, he sought the perfect way to honor her memory. She had been a dancer in her youth, good enough to be accepted into the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, and remained a supporter of the arts throughout her life. So Beckner created the Janet Sue Mason Foundation, which provides comfort to cancer patients and gives financial support to young artists. Yet he felt that wasn’t enough.

In late 2009, Beckner saw Las Vegas Academy students perform Old Ironsides by local composer Jeremy Woolstenhulme and was so moved that he contacted Woolstenhulme to ask if he would be interested in writing a symphony about Sue’s life. The 1993 Las Vegas High School graduate didn’t hesitate in accepting. “I’m a composer, so any chance I get to write excites me,” he says. “There’s a lot of emotion you can put into the music from [Sue’s story].”

Woolstenhulme’s Symphony for Sue will be performed for the first time Aug. 18 by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Symphony at the College of Southern Nevada’s Horn Theater (3200 E. Cheyenne Ave.) as part of a fundraiser for the Janet Sue Mason Foundation. The four-movement composition, which is the first symphony Woolstenhulme has written, addresses the full range of emotions, from the couple’s love for one another to Sue’s battle with cancer.

Woolstenhulme brought Beckner a CD of the composition in September. One listen was all Beckner needed to realize that the Hyde Park Middle School orchestra director had perfectly captured the essence of his wife’s story. “I think the tears in my eyes told him he’d hit the thing out of the park,” Beckner says. “This is beautiful music.”

Tickets to the Aug. 18 premiere of Symphony for Sue are $50-$150, with all proceeds supporting the efforts of the Janet Sue Mason Foundation. For more information, visit

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