It still amazes me that a lot of people don’t know about the Curtis Institute of Music. In musical spheres, it’s more illustrious than Juilliard because it takes only the top of the crème-de-la-crème of young musicians and they’re all on scholarship!
Curtis has had a long association with Sarasota. It started back in the 1930s when David Cohen, a child prodigy musician, attended the school in Philadelphia. He and his wife soon moved to Sarasota, founded what has since become the Sarasota Orchestra, brought conductor Paul Wolfe to town and went on to become one of the area’s most important cultural icons, even having a space in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center named after him.
Some of this Curtis-Sarasota history was told to us by another musical icon, Joseph Silverstein, at the recent Curtis chamber concert at the Historic Asolo, which was just one of a series of Curtis Alumni Performances in Sarasota. Although Curtis alums are world-renowned (Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Gian Carlo Menotti, Samuel Barber, Alan Gilbert, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Boris Goldovsky, Judith Blegen, Juan Diego Florez ) to audiences, Curtis remains one of the best kept secrets of the music world. It’s a shame, because a group of avid Curtis supporters in our area have banded together to bring some of the finest young musicians here to play but, so far, Sarasota audiences have been sparse.
The most recent concert featured Silverstein (Curtis 1950) as violinist, pianist Amy J. Yang (’06), and a pair of Sarasota Orchestra members, cellist Abraham Feder (’08) and hornist Joe Assi (’07), in an all-Brahms program that included the G Major, Opus 78 Violin Sonata; the B Major, Opus 8 Piano Trio; and the E-flat Major, Opus 40 Horn Trio.
Yang, who has performed in venues from Asia and Europe to Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and the White House, is an absolutely stunning pianist, playing with Brahms’ rich textures and weaving them among the various sounds of violin, cello and horn with sensitivity and commanding musicianship and technique.
In the Piano Trio, which opens with a gorgeously warm duet between piano and cello, Feder demonstrated why he was plucked out of Curtis by the Sarasota Orchestra for the head seat in the cello section even before he’d graduated! Since his first appearance here, he’s grown into a consummate musician with a slow grin and an appetite for musical fun on and off stage.
Assi, who makes one of the most difficult instruments sound like a breeze to play, seems to have lungs as big as the Gulf of Mexico. No … make that the Atlantic. His phrasing and attention to blend are exemplary, but it’s his mellow, musical sound that sets him apart from many (so far) better-known horn players. His palette of colors is vast and, just when you think he’s at the end of his breath and his dynamic range, there’s more to come.
There’s also more to come from Curtis in Sarasota this season. The next concert will take place Feb. 6 and will feature chamber works by Beethoven, Dohnanyi and Schubert played by Curtis faculty and students at the Asolo’s Cook Theater.
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