Something magical happened Saturday at the Sarasota Opera House when an ensemble of talented teens gathered on stage under the direction of their mentor, Itzhak Perlman, to demonstrate what great string playing sounds like.
This year marks the eighth annual winter residency of the Perlman Music Program in Sarasota. Of course, credit must go first to the Perlmans: to Toby, whose dream has been to help young musicians, and to Itzhak, who personifies great musicianship and charismatic, caring leadership and mentoring.
One of the highlights of Perlman’s playing has always been his ability to sing through his virtuosity. With the PMP, he’s instilling his musicianship and love of music in the talented young students with whom he works. He’s turning technophiles into musicians with a sense of style, history and understanding.
It’s fun to watch and inspirational to hear. For example, every year all the students (including the Perlmans and some of the other teachers) rehearse and then perform choral works conducted by Patrick Romano. Vocal music? You betcha! These instrumentalists are learning to breathe with the music, phrase, articulate and blend; important things for musicians whose instruments are outside their bodies. They’re also, as in the case of an a cappella piece by Brahms, learning to pronounce a foreign language, something that will help them as their careers take them to different parts of the world. And, their rhythmic precision in an Orff-like piece by Gyorgy Orban showed that tricky vocal music can be easy for an instrumentalist (or maybe I’m just jealous!).
Hearing them take these lessons in musicianship and use them as they’re meant to — with their fiddles, cellos and basses — is the best of all possible worlds. Their performance of Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” was crystal clear, lush and stylish. The Gavotte, especially, had a lightness and lucidity that’s rarely heard on the best recordings or performances by major ensembles. The finale of Bartok’s “Divertimento for Strings” had just the right bite to bring out the gypsy in them. And the swirling last movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence,” heard in its orchestral setting (it works here — much better than the orchestral arrangement of the Mendelssohn Octet), had all the clarity of chamber music in a richer texture.
Solos were carved into many of the pieces, spotlighting the prowess of individuals and making us play “Name the Player” — something much like “Name that Tune,” only here, we tried to discern, in three or four notes, who was playing what while bows flashed and fingers flew.
The Perlman Music Program is more than an asset to Sarasota. It’s a gem, and we’re blessed to it here. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the world’s great orchestras would kill to have string sections like this.
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