Sarasota Music Festival certainly had a major scare last year when it almost went out of business. But, thanks to the good graces of the Jay and Becky Kaiserman Foundation, the festival was rescued. Better still, it’s been resuscitated and is moving in directions that could keep it afloat for many decades to come.
The first major sign of resuscitation is the repertoire that’s coming our way this year. In fact, festival Artistic Director Robert Levin has infused the performances with two great breaths of fresh air: new repertoire (more than one-dozen festival premieres featuring music that’s both rare and well done) and the inclusion — no, incorporation — of the students into the concerts, chamber programs and recitals. It’s no longer “us” against “them,” and this simple move to position these fresh, young, talented musicians next to their mentors has been an inspiration to both audiences and seasoned veteran players.
Another important addition is the festival’s new conductor, Larry Rachleff, who has been able to inspire both the players and the audience with his exemplary podium technique and his ability to infuse the music with tremendous excitement and style. We sincerely hope his appearance this season is not a one-time thing. His is a talent to be reckoned with, and we need to keep the likes of him around for a while.
But there are a few problems, not so new, the festival needs to address. There are still some wonderful faculty members who have a great deal to share with the students but whose performing skills have weakened over the years. It’s always hard to know when it’s time to step off the stage, and I’m glad I won’t have to be the one to tell them their time has come. But someone needs to do it, for the sake of everyone involved.
Another difficulty is, of course, future funding. Word has it that the festival must look for sources outside the usual generosity of Sarasota residents, foundations and corporations. One hopes the time will come when all arts organizations in our area realize cooperation among them is more important than competition. When that happens and we begin to help each other artistically and financially, things will become much easier for everyone.
Finally, we are deeply saddened by the loss of one of Sarasota culture’s greatest supporters, Virginia Toulmin. She passed away in her sleep after attending a festival performance she helped to sponsor. We all miss her but have to admit, if one must go, that’s probably the best departure we can imagine. We wish her well in her place among the dearly departed musicians who, we’re sure, welcomed her with open arms and great musical fanfares.
— June LeBell
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