Sarasota Music Festival offers young musicians a rare opportunity.
For most aspiring musicians, the chance to work closely with concertmasters from some of the most acclaimed orchestras in world — the Berlin Philharmonic, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Philharmonic — would be something they could only dream of.
But every year since 1965, dozens of college students and young professional musicians from around the country get just that opportunity at the Sarasota Music Festival. The three-week Sarasota Orchestra program pairs the young musicians with seasoned professionals for intimate classes, rehearsals and chamber music concerts.
It’s a rare opportunity, and each year, it draws hundreds of applicants.
This year, 450 musicians applied. Faculty listens to recorded auditions to narrow down their selections to just 60. Throughout the years, the festival, which began as a one-week event, has continued to grow and evolve, but RoseAnne McCabe, the festival’s administrative director of 17 years, says the mission has always been the same: Provide students with a rare opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“I remember when I started, students were submitting their auditions on cassette tapes,” she says with a laugh. “Today, the auditions are uploaded online, where faculty can listen to them anywhere. One time, a student used a Kraft macaroni box to ship their tape. It was a reminder — ah, yes, you’re a college student.”
This year, students have access to 40 faculty members, many of whom are former students of the festival, who will share their experience and knowledge.
But McCabe doesn’t call it teaching; she prefers mentoring.
“When you mentor, it goes beyond simply teaching,” she says. “You get a lot back. It’s incredible that some of these faculty members are taking the time to do this. It’s an opportunity for them to really focus solely on the music, and it’s also a great source of chemistry. Chamber music is a lot about chemistry between the players. I think it’s what keeps people coming back.”
This year’s festival includes several highlights: “All Bach” is a performance of Bach’s six Brandenburg concertos, something that’s never been done in Sarasota and is a rare treat for classical music-lovers.
“yMusic,” a unique ensemble of six New York City musicians who blend classical and pop sensibilities will host a master class and perform — fresh off a tour with Paul Simon.
Jeffrey Kahane, the festival’s new director, will collaborate with former director Robert Levin in a performance of Schubert’s “Fantasie in F Minor.”
World-renowned flutist and former festival student Jasmine Choi and Alexander Kerr, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, will each perform a concerto with the festival orchestra of mostly student participants.
“This festival is unlike anything else we do in this area,” says McCabe. “These students are on the cusp of a great career. Seeing the progress from the first concert to the last, along with the energy and excitement is magical.”