Music Review: Sarasota Orchestra: Masterworks


It’s rare that we attend a performance that’s so overwhelming and so well executed we swear we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives. But that’s what happened at the Sarasota Orchestra’s recent Masterworks Concert.

The concept was simple: Weave several works with a central theme — music from or about Spain — segueing seamlessly, without breaks and without applause, so the audience could be transported into a world of mesmeric musical textures and sensations.

Artistic director and conductor Leif Bjaland opened the program with a short introduction, describing what we were about to hear as a “sonic kaleidoscope” without breaks. Then the lights dimmed, and on a fully blackened stage, one spotlight picked up flutist Betsy Hudson-Traba as she hypnotized us with her solo performance of Debussy’s compelling “Syrinx.” Before we could recover from its beauty, the lights came up on the entire orchestra for the rhythmic, pulsating “Conga” by Miguel del Aguila, a sort of classical Spike Jones piece with a Spanish twist and lots of bells and whistles.

Lights out and, poof! Guitarist Robert Belinic magically appeared with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s heart-stoppingly beautiful Guitar Concerto in D.

From the sublime to the hilarious: Peter Schickele’s waggish “Last Tango in Bayreuth” for four solo bassoons, followed by Britten’s “Playful Pizzicato” from his “Simple Symphony” and Chabrier’s joyous “Espana” (think “Hot Diggity, Dog Ziggity” and Perry Como … ).

Sarasate’s passionate “Carmen Fantasy,” performed by virtuoso violinist Caroline Goulding, kept us hurtling ahead. Soprano Jeanine De Bique’s sensuous singing of the Villa-Lobos “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 with eight cellos reduced us, again, to tears. Christopher Rouse’s “Ku-Ka-Ilimoku,” for what seemed like a zillion percussionists, palpated into the solo snare drum that opened Ravel’s “Bolero” and swept us to a breathless climax with every listener up and cheering.

This is great programming, beautifully performed and executed with musical integrity, giving us an opportunity to hear rare and well-known music in a fresh, energetic, vigorous setting that was stimulating and exciting.


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