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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 12 years ago

Artistic integrity

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

The Artist Series of Sarasota is no snore-fest.

Now in its 14th season, the series, which kicked off its fall performances with Red Priest, a rock-chamber quartet led by a British recorder player dressed as a 17th-century pirate, continues its forward momentum by bringing new and edgy talents to Sarasota.

“It just seems like each person we get brings something new and different,” says Lee Dougherty Ross, who founded the Artist Series with her husband, Jerold, in 1996. “I’d say Red Priest was our most unusual group ever. They wore costumes and made music like you’d never heard before. And the recorder player was beyond ‘Pied Piper.’ It was just awesome.”

The series’ winter concerts resume this month with Elizabeth Pitcairn, whose red violin inspired the 1999 Academy Award-winning movie, “The Red Violin.” Pitcairn, who has never performed in Sarasota before, will reunite Jan. 24 with pianist Toby Blumenthal Phillips, whose music camp she attended as a child.

In February, newcomer Hanan Alattar, a soprano who recently debuted with the English National Opera as Musetta in “La Bohème,” will perform “Aria Ready” with pianist Grigorios Zampara, followed by the Amelia Piano Trio.

Awarded National Public Radio’s Young Ensemble in Residence in 2003, the Amelia Piano Trio will perform pieces from Debussy, Bernstein and Chopin.

The spring series begins in March with pianist Ya-Fei Chuang and continues into May with the Italian Saxophone Quartet’s “Ragtime Tangos and Blues” and Brahms’ “Liebeslieder Waltzes,” a collection of 18 poems arranged for two pianos and a vocal quartet. “Liebeslieder” will feature Sarasota dancers Yvette Revelli and Jahrel Thompson dancing a stylized Viennese waltz­­ — a rare bonus given the Artist Series’ focus on non-local musicians.

And back for their third Artist Series engagement is superstar piano duo Elizabeth Joy Roe and Greg Anderson. The duo’s plucky, high-energy performances have landed them on MTV’s “Total Request Live” and NPR’s “From the Top.” In 2006 they replaced Hollywood composer John Williams on Juilliard’s “Cinema Serenades” concert with their “Star Wars Fantasy” piano composition.

“They’re young, cute and full of verve,” says Dougherty Ross of Roe and Anderson, who will perform “Ragtime a la Turca” June 6 and June 8. “It says a lot when we bring someone back a third time.”

Seeing red: Q&A with Elizabeth Pitcairn

Artist Series musician Elizabeth Pitcairn is the 36-year-old owner of the Mendelssohn Stradivarius violin that inspired the 1999 Academy Award-winning movie, “The Red Violin.” Pitcairn, who will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, and Tuesday, Jan. 26, in the Historic Asolo Theater, discusses what it’s like to play and travel with a 290-year-old instrument reportedly worth $1.6 million. 

Describe the first time you saw the violin.
“I was 16 years old and I was a senior in high school. I was winning quite a few violin competitions, and my mother, who had heard about this amazing red violin coming up for auction at Christie’s London, got special permission to let me try it out for 20 minutes.”

Why is the red violin so cherished?
“It produces a huge sound in a concert hall. It’s not something you’d play in a small room. It’s designed for extreme projections.”

How do audiences respond to it?
“When I’m really in a zone, it becomes an extension of myself. We kind of melt together. I don’t know if it happens in my head, my heart or some other place, but people tell me they can see the moment when I just let go and the music transcends everything.”

How do you travel with it?
“It’s attached to me at all times. I compare it to taking care of a child. You have to watch them like they could hurt themselves at any second. My brain is hyper aware of it. When I’m traveling with a less valuable instrument, I don’t feel nearly the same way.”

Any close calls?
“One time I was coming back from Russia and a customs agent took it out of my hands and I’ll never forget the feeling of utter helplessness as she held it out while thousands of people streamed past. I knew she could confiscate it at any second. I almost had a heart attack.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].

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