The Sarasota Orchestra has had a wonderful season with exciting concerts, fine performances and innovative programs. So, nothing could have prepared me for the concert that took place Saturday night, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. “Across America!” was billed as a “Salute to Kennedy Center Honorees.”
The program featured snippets of familiar pieces that were loosely (and I use that word, um, loosely) tied to beloved American luminaries who have received a Kennedy Center honor. The overture to “Gypsy,” for example, was played as a tribute to Jule Styne. The famous “Fanfare for the Common Man” was programmed as a salute to Aaron Copland. Etcetera, etcetera and so forth, as Hammerstein would say, in tribute to Richard Rodgers.
Then they began to play, and the Sarasota Orchestra, loosely led by Andrew Lane, sounded as if it had already left town on summer vacation. In the beginning, the brass-and-percussion sections were particularly at fault, and Lane took so many fast tempos we thought he must have been double-parked.
The vocal soloists, Michelle Amato and Bryan Harden, were unprofessional with poor intonation and embarrassing vocal mannerisms, and Harden’s recitation of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” had all the passion of a dial tone.
The video presentations we have come to appreciate and expect were nothing more than black-and-white stills of the honorees, until the penultimate piece — a movement from Copland’s Symphony No. 3 — which had some interesting footage of mid-20th-century memories that, unfortunately, dumbed down the music itself.
Even the program went awry when it attributed the famous, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” to Irving Berlin instead of the real composer, George Cory Jr.
Alas, the most exciting part of the innocuous, poorly performed concert was the downpour that splattered against the Van Wezel’s roof and the great bursts of thunder that added ferment to Herrmann’s “Vertigo” suite in the second half.
Deep in our soul, we know that this concert was an aberration, and we look forward to the Sarasota Orchestra returning in the fall, polished and gleaming from what must be a much-needed holiday.
— June LeBell