After all the sturm and drang the Sarasota Orchestra’s musicians and management have put themselves through recently, it was good to see Joseph McKenna, the president and CEO of the orchestra, and concertmaster Daniel Jordan on the Sarasota Opera House stage together, healing old wounds and addressing the sold-out audience as friends and not adversaries.
Leif Bjaland, artistic director, had an even more difficult task in front of him. In programming a fundraising concert, he had to take two important things into consideration: audience popularity in order to sell tickets and important Musical Friends of the orchestra, who would be both attractive to the listeners and give of themselves without taking away from the funds raised.
And Bjaland outdid himself.
Both the opening Dvorak “Carnival” Overture and the closing “Capariccio espagnol,” by Rimsky-Korsakov, were real showcases for the Sarasota Orchestra. It was especially in the latter that every musician came through, sounding gloriously exciting and virtuosic. It’s the perfect vehicle to show off the strengths of the first-chair players, from the strings and winds to the brass and percussion. And it proved, once again, that Sarasota has a first-class orchestra with a throng of brilliant players.
Between the orchestral showcases, Bjaland and his band had a chance to show off their superior accompanying skills. Orchestra friend and Music Festival Artistic Director Robert Levin made his usual frenetic and flamboyant splash at the piano in Mozart’s K. 466 Concerto, giving the orchestra the opportunity to follow and emulate many improvised moments not in the score. And violinist James Ehnes gave them such a gloriously sweet and impassioned tone in the Mendelssohn E Minor Concerto, it had to be an inspiration to every other musician on stage.
It was also particularly and unstylistically fast. Perhaps Ehnes takes such tempos because he can. But this wonderful violinist needs to grow artistically into his virtuosity. He also needs to breathe. When he does, he’ll be up there with the best.
— June LeBell