Sarasota Music Festival opens its 51st season.
There was a musical cornucopia in Sarasota this past weekend when the Sarasota Music Festival opened its 51st season with a chamber concert Friday night, followed by an orchestral program Saturday. Both performances took place at the Sarasota Opera House and featured an exciting mix of faculty members and students from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Colburn Conservatory in California, to New York’s Juilliard School, the Yale School of Music in Connecticut and the Royal College of Music in England.
This is a teaching and performing festival with about 60 students coming from as far away as Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei, who were chosen from a pool of about 500, making them the crème-de-la-crème of young instrumentalists. In fact, three alumni of the festival recently got new jobs as the Concertmasters of a trio of the world’s most illustrious orchestras: The Atlanta Symphony, The New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. That’s a track record that comes close to winning the Triple Crown.
Friday evening’s chamber concert began with the fun-filled but treacherous opening movement of the Wind Quintet No. 1 by Jean Francaix featuring five so-called student performers (Hayla Faurie, Emily Beare, Juyong You, Emeline Chong and Michelle Hembree) in a reading that was fresh and stylish.
The faculty (Susan Starr, Ani Kavafian, Barbara Westphal and Steven Doane) took the stage next for an energetic performance of Mendelssohn’s B Minor Piano Quartet, written when the composer was only 16, about a year or so before he took on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his famous Octet. Talk about precocious kids.
Flutist Carol Wincenc, who’s been a faculty member at the festival since 1985 (she was probably still a toddler), took the lead with a side-by-side (faculty and student) interpretation of Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie in B-flat,” which had a slightly shaky start (darn those nerves) but soon turned into a sparkling rendition with lots of finesse and panache.
Students Eric Tsai, Yun Joe Choi, Charles Galante and Russell Houston played the first movement of Beethoven’s F Major String Quartet from his Opus 59 with absolute beauty, musicianship and integrity. Prokofiev’s quirky and klezmer-like Quintet was performed by still another passel of up-and-coming musicians. And Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor was given a muscular but stylistic performance by pros Robert Levin, Timothy Lees and Timothy Eddy.
Saturday night’s concert had all the students making up the orchestra with a few faculty members and guests from the Sarasota Orchestra filling in the brass and timpani sections, and Timothy Lees as the Concertmaster. Nicholas McGegan, who’s conducted major orchestras from New York to Hong Kong, and is known for his vast historical knowledge and ability to share that expertise with new music-makers, led the wide ranging program which began with Schubert’s rarely heard Overture to “Die Verschworenen,” in an arrangement by the 20th century musician, Fritz Racek, and concluded with a dynamic and well-played reading of Schumann’s Third Symphony, known as the “Rhenish.”
In between, Michelle Feng, a student at the Colburn Conservatory, gave an authoritative, soulful and beautifully played performance with orchestra of “The Swan of Tuonela,” one of the Legends by Sibelius. And Carol Wincenc took front stage in the colorful, incredibly difficult and somewhat eccentric Flute Concerto by Carl Nielsen. Here, Nic McGegan was the perfect foil, accompanying like the master conductor/mentor he is, allowing his young orchestra to revel in the odd sounds called for by the composer, and letting Wincenc fly like the beguiling sorceress of the flute she is.