There’s a lot to celebrate these days, and The Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, with an innovative new summer series that featured 143 performers (in two weeks), is leading the way. The ASCS has been chock-full of talent the past 16 seasons, but the inspiration to broaden its base to summer, using both local and imported talent, was sheer genius. Bringing 10 performances to a variety of venues — from rehearsal studios to Sainer Pavillion — brought even the savviest Sarasota arts mavens to some new sites.
As the song goes, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” and the gimmicks, or lynchpins, of this musical feast were, in the “Pops” week, the charming Broadway and cabaret stars, Liz Callaway and Alex Rybeck, followed by the celebrated Albers String Trio for the “Classical” week. Having full programs featuring these talented musicians would have been gift enough. But, hearing them as the bread with some of Sarasota’s finest as the filling made for two weeks of delicious musical sandwiches.
A review of 143 performers would take us somewhere into next September, so we’ll give you some of the highlights.
Sarasota Orchestra principal bassist John Miller brought out the rarely encountered flamenco bass, and the orchestra’s first tuba, Jay Hunsberger, wove his magic with a rendition of the “Queen of the Night” aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” Irish harpist Olivia Swaan showed a dynamic range of colors instrumentally and vocally. Gloria Musicae presented a diversity of styles from early American to Gershwin, and the treble voices of Belle Canto sang a medley of evocative pop and folk songs.
On the “Classical” calendar, a bevy of big-voiced singers, including Michelle Giglio, Carol Sparrow, Rebecca Price and baritone Joseph Ryan, proved opera is very much alive in our hometown. Organist Ann Stephenson-Moe showed off the wondrous instrument at Church of the Redeemer and, yes, still in the “Classical” week, juggler Rafael DeCarlo, from Circus Sarasota, wowed us with a multitude of spinning balls atop his fingers, nose and head.
If this sounds like the amateur hour, think again. Somehow, Lee Dougherty Ross, artistic director of the Artist Series Concerts, and John Fischer, executive director, have found a way to blend circus acts with tubas then add singers, pinches of pianists and heaping spoonsful of string players to created a recipe for success. Yes, some ingredients were tastier than others. Fourteen-year-old Maria Wirries pretty much stole the shows she appeared in, and soprano Lynne Meskey — usually seen in the top row of various Sarasota choruses —waltzed away with the best “Summertime” heard in years. The point is, Sarasota’s got live-in but internationally capable talent, and this new summer series was the perfect showcase for it.
This is my last music column until the fall, but check out my blog at www.YourObserver.com over the summer for musical travels to Santa Fe, N.M., and points west, as well as reprints at www.junelebell.com. And have a wonderful summer!
— June LeBell