This past season brought several firsts, grand finales and high expectations for next season’s music offerings in Sarasota.
School is out, Memorial Day is past, hurricane season is here and it’s time to reflect a bit on the past music season in Sarasota.
Oh yes, we still have the Sarasota Music Festival and July Fourth concerts, but I’m referring to those months when there are so many things going on, it’s almost impossible to decide which ones to attend, much less to write about.
That Was the Season That Was, and it had some distinctive high points for sure. The Sarasota Orchestra kicked off the season with its new Discoveries Series at the Opera House and a new approach to programming, with fast-paced 75-minute programs featuring soloists from the orchestra, which will be continued next season. Then, Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota opened with a repeat of “Piano Grand,” with five — count ‘em — FIVE concert grand pianos, played in a frenzy of sound.
What wound up being the final Ringling International Arts Festival was highlighted by the newly formed ensemblenewSRQ guided by George Nickson and Samantha Bennett. This newest addition to the Sarasota professional music scene has jump-started new music and its audiences in the area, adding a world-premiere-commissioned work in only its second season and promising even more in the future.
The fall season of the Sarasota Opera marked Verdi’s return with “La Traviata” and a stunning Youth Opera premiere of “Rootabaga County.” Then came the Winter Festival Season highlighted by a glowing production of “Norma” and D’Albert’s almost never performed “Tiefland,” which turned out to be the sleeper of the season.
The Choral Artists of Sarasota repeated last season’s hit performance of “Too Hot to Handel,” moving it to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and just about filling the house once again. One of the most exciting performances of the year was the group’s sold-out performance of “Carmina Burana,” presented at Church of the Palms and incorporating the outstanding dancers of Sarasota Contemporary Dance, with brilliant Leymis Bolaños Wilmott choreography utilizing almost every inch of space on the stage. There is already talk of trying to arrange a repeat performance before too long. Let’s hope that happens soon.
With its various offerings of Chamber Music, Pops Concerts, Discoveries, Great Escapes and Masterworks Series, the Sarasota Orchestra easily offers the most varied buffet of any musical season. Each series is distinctive and well attended, but for me the season standouts were violinist Midori’s performance of Bernstein’s “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium,” conductor Larry Rachleff’s exciting readings of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” and Bernstein’s “Four Dances from West Side Story,” and Music Director Anu Tali’s moving performances of the Sibelius Symphony No. 1. The coming season will be Tali’s final season as music director, and already it promises to be a sellout.
“La Musica,” that venerable chamber music festival, featured guitarist Jason Vieaux for his second appearance with the group, adding a needed spark and variety to the repertoire. The season was well wrapped up with a bow, neatly if a bit noisily tied, with two sold-out pops concerts by the Sarasota Orchestra at Ed Smith Stadium.
I’m ending with a personal note: This was my first full season as a contributor and opinion writer for The Observer, since I was asked to replace my wife, June LeBell, who lost her fight with ovarian cancer just over a year ago. It was also my first semester as host of SILL’s “Music Mondays,” also without June. I want to take this opportunity to give great thanks to the staff of The Observer and all those wonderful people at SILL who helped make this season of writing and hosting a very special time for me. I also want to thank those of you who read these sentences and who make up the audience for “Music Mondays.” All of you make all of this an exceptional place to be. That’s why we love Sarasota.