There were multiple stars shining in the east last week when the Choir of Sarasota’s First United Methodist Church, under the direction of Elizabeth Goldstein, joined forces with members of the Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Young Voices and a group of young dancers choreographed by Isabel Dubrocq for the 20th annual Christmas Concert in the newly renovated sanctuary of the church on Pineapple Avenue.
Perhaps the brightest star was the space itself. Recently re-opened after a massive renovation, its sparkling white walls and brilliant stained-glass windows offer a space that’s not only artistically pleasing but also acoustically excellent. After removing many of the old, rather uncomfortable, pews, they’ve turned the sanctuary into a 700-seat hall that can easily be transformed from a worshipful church to acoustically sound concert hall, something Sarasota has been craving for years.
The brand-new organ console is not only beautiful to see and hear, it’s also movable, allowing for a variety of configurations. Even the first few rows of pews are removable, so a good-sized orchestra could be seated there or, as we saw last week, dancers, soloists, narrators and a whole second chorus.
There are also large but tasteful screens on either side of the stage/chancel allowing the entire audience/congregation to see the performers/ministers with the help of closed-circuit TVs — no more trying to see over tall heads and big hats.
But this is a column about performances, not architecture. Suffice it to say, Sarasota now has a new place for performances that’s perfect for chamber concerts, recitals, choruses, solo singers and lecturers, as well as church services.
Elizabeth Goldstein, the director of music at the church, put together a program that was a holiday extravaganza, showcasing her fine choir and the excellent talent of the Sarasota Young Voices, directed by Genevieve Beauchamp. The young girls in the SYV are getting just the right training to allow them to sing two movements (“Hodie” and “There is No Rose”) from Benjamin Britten’s extremely difficult “Ceremony of Carols” with perfect intonation, beautiful tone quality and professionalism. We’d be hard put to find another ensemble of this quality anywhere, from Vienna to New York City.
Highlights of this ambitious and well-planned program included a beautifully sung solo by baritone Joseph Ryan, fascinating orchestral and choral arrangements by Goldstein, charming visuals produced by Goldstein with Clarke Means and Brian Silvas, attractive playing by organist Nancy Siebecker, pianist Marsha Juday and harpist Cheryl Losey, delightful choreography and dancing by Dubrocq and her young company and lots of good music ranging from Rutter and traditional carols to Christmas memories of Charlie Brown and other popular favorites.
Having this excellent group of singers, dancers and instrumentalists at hand in this great space, candlelit and packed to the gills, all added to the excitement and spirit making this a special evening.
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- Thank you for the kind words for the Sarasota Young Voices. There is one boy that sings in the choir. Philip Franzone is a 6th grader at Tabernacle Christians School were he has won both individual and choral awards at F.L.O.C.S.(Florida League of Christian Schools.) The Sarasota Young Voices are an incredibly talented group with the direction of Mrs Beauchamp. Thank you again, and stay tuned for more great performances from SYV. They are performing this weekend at Circus Sarasota in "Cirque des Voix." Check it out if you can.
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