Two B's, Beethoven and Berlioz, earn Sarasota Orchestra an A-plus.
It’s important that orchestras work with a variety of conductors to expand their vision, and Sunday, at the Masterworks V concert, the Sarasota Orchestra hit a jackpot with Carlos Miguel Prieto. The Mexican-born music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic and a pair of ensembles in Mexico is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, but his real credentials are those he brings with him on the podium: clarity, warmth and incisive ideas about what he wants in the music. Best of all, he knows how to get it.
Never over conducting and never pushing the orchestra past its finest moments, he brought a wonderful control to his conducting that was at its most marvelous in Berlioz’s mind-blowing “Symphonie fantastique.”
This phenomenal piece of program music is so electrifying it could cause a conductor to overdo, running away with tempos and dynamics, but Prieto and the Sarasota Orchestra were in full control. The orchestra played with a crystalline sound, great colors and an energy that always matched the composer’s intentions.
From the opening “Reveries and Passions” through “A Ball,” a pastoral trip “In the Country,” the electrifying “March to the Scaffold” and the final “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath” with its hobbling waltz-with-the-devil and Dies Irae, there wasn’t one movement on the podium or sound in the orchestra that wasn’t stirring and meaningful.
Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, which opened the program, was conducted without a score and with a rearrangement of the orchestra’s seating, putting the second violins opposite the firsts and bringing the winds closer to the audience. It’s a classical formation, and it worked beautifully, with the conductor eliciting a lean sound that never lost its richness. While tempos were brisk, nothing was pushed and, as one member of the ensemble said after the performance, “The last movement of that symphony is groovy.” I’d say that about the whole concert.