The Sarasota Orchestra named Anu Tali as its new music director Tuesday, June 11. The 40-year-old Estonian conductor is being signed to a three-year contract that will officially begin Aug. 1.
Tali, who led the orchestra in two concerts — once this past season and the first two years ago, both to critical and audience raves — made her U.S. conducting debut in 2005 with the New Jersey Symphony.
When she was in her 20s, she co-founded the Nordic Symphony Orchestra with her twin sister. Tali has appeared regularly with ensembles throughout this country, Europe and Asia, and is known for her dynamism, enthusiasm and clarity of beat.
“When I came here, I saw that the orchestra had grown immensely since I conducted them just a couple of years before,” Tali said of her most recent experiences with the Sarasota Orchestra.
She added that orchestra members had opinions they wanted to share and that there was a sense of dignity, an artistic pride.
“This, I think, is a marriage made in heaven,” Tali said. “I really feel this is. I’m Estonian and blunt in my English, but when I asked (the musicians) for something musically, you could see they enjoyed going beyond the music making,” she said. “We had a great time together. It was miraculous. They would take a risk for me and that’s a big compliment. There’s a place and a time for everything and I feel there’s something I can do with them. You accept me saying, let’s try this, and then — I’m all yours.”
According to Tali, there is no right or wrong way to play something, but there are traditions. She says once you know the tradition, it’s exciting to look in the score and see beyond the tradition.
“This orchestra has its own personality and you have to find out more about what that personality is,” said Tali. “Figure out what’s already there and make use of it. Build on their strengths and, together, we ask for more.”
The search for a new music director began a year-and-a-half ago. After Leif Bjaland resigned from the position, a special search committee was formed to lead a “closed search,” during which time all the orchestra’s guest conductors may have been possible candidates.
“The board of the orchestra recognized the thorough job done by the Search Committee and approved the recommendation that Anu Tali serve as the fifth music director of the Sarasota Orchestra,” said Anne Folsom-Smith, chairman of the orchestra’s board. “We believe Anu will take the Sarasota Orchestra to a higher level and, in the process, will ignite even greater passion for one of the region’s cultural gems.”
The search committee, which was made up of four musicians from the orchestra and two each of board members, staff and community representatives, made a unanimous recommendation of Tali to the board Tuesday. Edward Alley, one of the two community members, acted as the non-voting chairman of the committee.
“This was the best, most effective and collaborative committee I’ve worked with in my 50 years in the orchestra business,” said Alley, who was a bassist, an orchestra conductor and, later, a manager of the New York Philharmonic.
Joseph Mckenna, president and CEO of the orchestra, said, “We are confident Anu will enhance and invigorate the way people perceive live classical music in our region, build on our past successes and attract new audiences to our great Orchestra.”
And, in a phone interview Tuesday evening, he added, “This has been a fabulous journey for the organization and I’m thrilled. The search committee, the music committee and Anu’s appointment have already enriched our whole organization and made it stronger.”
Tali, who will be the fifth music director in the Sarasota Orchestra’s 65-year history, opens the 2013-2014 season with Masterworks concerts Nov. 8 through Nov. 10, as well as Masterworks performances Feb. 20 through Feb. 23. Carlos Prieto, who was originally scheduled in February, will be a guest conductor in a future season.
“My goal would be — not immediately, but long term — to make the sound even more vibrant and varied,” says Tali. “I want ensemble playing; chamber music on a bigger scale. Not a vertical sound but an emphasis on phrasing and blending. That’s the musical freedom that only great orchestras make. That’s what I want.”
A dynamic musician, Tali is part of a new, exciting generation of conductors who are in demand worldwide for their work in multiple genres — orchestra, ballet and opera. When she was in Sarasota this past season, she presented herself as down-to-earth musician with a flair for bringing out the best in her orchestra musicians.
“A warmhearted trust and musical connection seemed to have existed between us since our first meeting,” said Tali of the orchestra. “It has been magical for me to share the stage with the Sarasota Orchestra. May the journey begin.”