Last year at this time, the Sarasota Music Festival’s future looked bleak. Money and music were waning, and the odds of having another season were dim. Then, the Jay and Becky Kaiserman Foundation came along with the financial support, and Robert Levin brought us a conductor named Larry Rachleff. Against all odds, the festival is now stronger and better than it’s ever been.
If Saturday evening’s concert at the Opera House is any indication of the future, Sarasota now has one of the finest festivals for teaching and performing in the country.
Saturday’s all-Beethoven program featured an almost all-student orchestra — and these kids were spectacular. They began by showcasing 18-year-old violinist Holly Jenkins in the sweetly tender “Romance” No. 1 in G. This Oberlin sophomore showed great poise, technique and a lovely singing tone that bodes well for a future career.
Artistic Director Robert Levin then took the spotlight with a beautifully shaped, lyrical and passionate rendering of the “Emperor” Concerto. Levin was at his best in this elegantly fiery piano-and-orchestral duet. This man is musical from the top of his head down to his purple socks. He, Rachleff and the orchestra were partners in such sublime music making that it was our socks they knocked off.
But the real showstopper of the evening was the Beethoven Symphony No. 7. Rachleff has been working with major orchestras, but he’s spent a great deal of his time with young musicians. And he drew from these instrumentalists one of the finest performances of this work I can remember. It was an aural tribute to shape, color and edge-of-your-seat, breathless music making. He doesn’t beat time; he contours the music, building crescendos, shaping phrases and molding the sound like musical clay.
He made me wish I could write the way he conducts. Rachleff is an inspiration, and it’s people like him and Levin, with the great young talents we’re hearing, who are the future of this festival.
— June LeBell