The Sarasota Orchestra is getting more and more ambitious in its programming and, in my book, it’s working really well. Its recent program at the Sarasota Opera House, “The Dream of America,” was a moving tribute that combined 20th- and 21st-century orchestral music with a cast of actors, a singer, videos, photographs and texts so strong they’d move the most cynical among us.
The event began with an appealing video featuring several orchestra members who’ve moved to America from other countries. They told their stories with just the right touch of candor and charm to draw us into their worlds and make us as happy they’d chosen America as they seemed to be.
John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare,” commissioned by the Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation in 1986, was then paired with an awe-inspiring pastiche of photographs ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK to the giant redwoods and the Grand Canyon. Here, the orchestra, led by Andrew Lane, sounded bright and well meshed.
A quartet of Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs” followed in a performance by the striking baritone Michael Redding, who did them justice with a strong, beautifully expressive voice, eloquent styling and the kind of excellent enunciation that these fun but powerful pieces need. Unfortunately, Lane didn’t prove to be as excellent an accompanist as he is a pops conductor, and the precision between orchestra and singer was not up to par.
The final work, Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” made up for any earlier short comings with compelling texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, spoken simply but powerfully by actors Kathryn Tanner, Michael Swickard, Ame Livingston, Patrick Sullivan, Phran Gauchi, Anne Hering and David Chernault, who was also the director.
Having just seen the Venice Theater’s excellent production of “Ragtime,” this work was particularly poignant and stirring, which made this program an hour that won’t soon be forgotten.