“It’s the end of the season but Sarasota Orchestra is still doing something new,” said Joe McKenna, President and CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, to the sold-out audience of more than 3,000 last Saturday evening, when the ensemble, under the direction of Andrew Lane, played at Ed Smith Stadium. Yes, they took us out to the ballpark and hit a home run with a program that spanned a range of pops pieces from the movies and Broadway, to jazz, bluegrass and rock.
It was a first for Sarasota Orchestra. The crowd packed the stands along the third-bass line (okay, we renamed it for this concert), happily munching hot dogs and Crackerjack, while the orchestra strained to accommodate themselves to the very unaccustomed acoustics of an amphitheater-like shell staffed by roadies who know more about blasting rock than augmenting violins. As a result, the first half of the concert was loud. Really loud. Melodies were submerged and drowned out by inner voices of instruments, so selections from “West Side Story” and a suite from Disney’s newer classics sounded familiar but no so much.
Fortunately, the techies knew how to handle the microphone for a singer and, when 16 year old Sarasota super-soprano, Maria Wirries, took the stage to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Colors of the Wind,” from “Pocahontas,” her beautiful voice and crystal clear diction came across without incident.
The terrific Randall Bass score for “Casey at the Bat,” narrated with assurance and dramatic flair by television anchor Scott Dennis, occasionally drowned out his most passionate lines but that was more the fault of the composer who, in an attempt to make the work musically dramatic, gave big forte sections to the orchestra under the speaker, resulting in a shouting match that no one could solve. Still, it was a great reading by narrator and orchestra and, contrary to the famous poem by Ernest Thayer, there was great joy in Sarasota’s Mudville because this Casey hit it out of the ballpark.
It seemed as if acoustical adjustments were being made by the measure and, by the time beers and franks had been refreshed at intermission, the sound was more within the scope of a classical concert and we were more able to hear the music for what it was.
Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” had a nice swing to it and the selections from “Chicago,” came across so nobody reached for the gun. Molly Cherryholmes, a versatile performer who seems equally at home singing, playing an amplified violin and keyboard (not all at the same time), brought some new notes to the adaptability of the Sarasota Orchestra musicians. It was a little disconcerting to see her playing the fiddle as a southpaw but she’s a hot, multitalented performer and the crowd loved her.
Andrew Lane, the Orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, knows how to program a winning event and this concert had something for everyone. It also brought in a whole new audience that seemed dazzled by the performances and ready to come inside for a (slightly) more sedate concert next season.
Music from “Star Wars” ended the printed portion of the program but no outdoor concert is complete without a little Sousa so “Stars and Stripes Forever” was the thrilling encore, with piccolos standing, and everyone cheering and clapping. And, as the musicians left the stage for the dugout, we were treated to a close encounter with fireworks that lit up the skies over Tuttle, pronouncing classical music, in all its varied forms, is alive and thriving in Sarasota.