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Arts and Entertainment Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016 3 years ago

Music review: Perlman Music Program

Perlman Music Program celebrates its 12th year on the Suncoast.

It’s hard to believe the Perlman Music Program has been weaving its musical magic for 12 years and, as we were entering the Sarasota Opera House to hear another of its Celebration Concerts, “Same Old, Same Old,” was running through my mind. After all, how long can musicians, even great ones like Itzhak Perlman, churn out exciting, fresh performances?

It seems that’s not a problem for Itzhak, his wife Toby (the heart and soul of the program) and the multitude of talented young students they bring with them every Christmas and New Year holiday to study, rehearse, perform and share their great gifts with all of us. The format for the Celebration Concert remains the same: a choral performance by all the kids and faculty  followed by the nitty-gritty of it all – a concert featuring the string orchestra made up of the youngsters and conducted by the Master, himself.

This year, although the construct was the same, there was something different, something freshened, something even more inspiring, chasing away “Same Old, Same Old,” and making it all new, again.

First of all, Patrick Romano, the Chorus Master the Program brings down from the Juilliard Pre-College division, has started turning the young instrumentalists into a good sounding choir. We all acknowledge these kids (and their mentors) aren’t singers. But they’re great musicians; musicians who can learn a lot about their violins, violas and cellos by using their internal, God-given instruments. Learning how to sing with your voice helps give you a singing sound on the instrument you hold in your hands. Phrasing, breathing, communicating are all important aspects of playing an instrument and, when done properly, with good training, nothing teaches musicians how to sing with their instruments better than singing.

Their excerpts from “Messiah” and the bouncy “Laudamus Te” from the Poulenc “Gloria” were rough but, except for one misplaced high Ab on a final “Laudamus te,” very much in tune and very  musical. Gyorgy Orban’s exciting “Daemon Irrepit Callidus,” which is an uncanny reminder of Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” was thrilling. But Brahms’ “Waldesnacht” was downright gorgeous, sounding as good as any chorus on the professional circuit.

Then came the instrumental part of the concert and, this year, the program had more meat to it, starting with Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings,” a lush, emotional work with a heart-rending Largo that pulled the strings on the stage into the strings of our hearts.

I almost always prefer the original versions of chamber works, but the first two movements of Debussy’s String Quartet had even more color and texture (especially with the addition of a trio of string basses) in the string orchestra version and Mr. Perlman, leading without over-conducting, made beautiful music with his musicians.

For me, the most satisfying piece was the Bach “Chaconne” arranged for string orchestra by Hideo Saito, the 20th century cellist, lecturer, conductor and teacher of the illustrious conductor, Seiji Ozawa. It was a performance that would have made Leopold Stokowski, who brought us so many great Bach transcriptions, proud, with Saito, Perlman and the PMP String Orchestra bringing an organic, organ-like sound that was romantic but true to the great Baroque tradition that Bach built with such genius.

The PMP Strings, under the direction of Itzhak Perlman with Toby Perlman’s love of talent and kids overseeing everything, is a miracle of the Sarasota area. May they grace us with their gifts for dozens of years to come.

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