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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Mar. 29, 2019 3 years ago

A look back on six years of growth with Anu Tali

The Sarasota Orchestra music director's final concert with the group is April 9.
by: Edward Alley Contributor

Anu Tali will step up to the podium for her last concert on April 7, after serving for six years as music director of the Sarasota Orchestra.

For many of us it will seem as if she’s only arrived. She is “lightning in a bottle,” as concertmaster Daniel Jordan mentioned recently. “She had that rare quality of being able to make magic on the podium.” Petite, strong and determined with definite ideas about each work she conducted, she communicated these ideas to the orchestra with great efficiency.

I think we attended every series of her Masterworks concerts over these six years, and I looked back over my reviews and those of June LeBell, to refresh my memory on how the orchestra has changed during Tali’s tenure.

One of the most obvious changes is in repertoire. Some would say that although Tali seldom programmed traditional middle European works, she introduced Sarasota audiences to many of the works of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Sibelius.

Tali was obviously leading from her strongest suit, since these are composers closest to her Estonian homeland and her heart. Performance style is always more than the mere notes on a page, and this orchestra has learned the style of these composers, especially Sibelius, as we in the audience gained a new appreciation for these locally neglected masters.

Another plus was introducing our orchestra and audiences to international soloists, many from Eastern Europe and Russia, presenting unfamiliar repertoires and musical styles, giving us an informed and broader appreciation.

However, Tali’s greatest contribution to the orchestra during her six years as music director has been the striking growth of the orchestra. The Sarasota Orchestra has always been a fine orchestra, with excellent musicians, but this improvement is best expressed by Tali herself.

“They have become an ensemble that can set unanimous goals and follow them through,” Tali says. “I am proud of the sound that we have created.”

The rise in the overall quality of the orchestra and the new members who have joined during her tenure have elevated the Sarasota Orchestra to the best of the regional orchestras in our country. An example is the number of applicants for any vacancy that may occur. There’s usually at least 60-80 applicants for a single vacant position, which is testimony that the orchestra has become known far beyond the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Perhaps Tali’s most noticeable asset was her passion for the music, evident in her intensity every time she picked up the baton. 

“Her urgency to reach the most truthful depths for the music we’ve made together, with her talent…has united the musicians and audiences of Sarasota in unprecedented ways,” says Bharat Chandra, principal clarinet.

Jordan agrees: “As her concertmaster and ‘left hand man,’ I had the privilege to help interpret her meaning and gestures to the rest of the orchestra. She turned out to be as genuine offstage as on, and it showed through everything she did.”

And now the Sarasota Orchestra is poised for an even bolder future, with a year of exciting and well-known guest conductors, which we all hope could yield a new music director for the orchestra, who will probably be the one to open a new concert hall in the not-too-distant future.

These past six seasons under the dynamic leadership of Tali have indeed raised the quality, ability and ambition of this orchestra to look forward to even greater vistas. The orchestra is already reaching broader and newer audiences with its series of broadcast concerts on WSMR, Florida’s classical music station, a first for this orchestra.

Tali was indeed the right person at the right time for the Sarasota Orchestra. 

“In a world increasingly burdened with noise, violence and chaos, Anu has helped all of us get better connected to a shared human experience through music,” says Orchestra President and CEO Joseph McKenna. “She has been a gift to Sarasota and our organization.”

“We have had a happier time together than we ever dreamed of. On a personal level, I believe I’ve made some friends for life,” Tali said when we spoke on her most recent trip before Masterworks 6.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have tickets for this sold-out final Masterworks series, featuring Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, will be able to hear her valedictory concerts, the culmination of her past six seasons.

“She’s a musician’s musician, and she will be missed,” says Chandra.

To which I can only add, me too. 

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Edward Alley is a conductor, former manager of the NY Philharmonic, associate director of the Juilliard Opera Center and director of the MBRockefeller Fund for Music. He succeeds his wife, the late June LeBell, as producer/host of SILL’s Music Mondays.

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