The first week of the festival featured both impressive professional ensembles and emerging young musicians.
If the succeeding weekends of this year’s Sarasota Music Festival are as exciting as the first one, we really need to fasten our musical seat belts because it’s the start of a great ride. I’m already looking in my thesaurus for new adjectives to use.
This year, Music Director Jeffrey Kahane has invited two established professional chamber music groups to serve on the faculty and also to perform, both with the SMF fellows and on their own: Montrose Trio and Pacifica String Quartet. (The music festival now refers to its young musicians as “fellows” rather than “students,” defining them as young professionals, which they really are.)
The first artist showcase June 6 in Holley Hall, “Fairy Tales and Fantasy,” featured faculty members in performance. Paul Schoenfield’s Klezmer-influenced trio received a bravura performance by Franklin Cohen, clarinet; Angelo Xiang Yu, violin; and Kahane, piano. Hornist Julie Landsman gave the premiere of “Ha-Galgal (The Wheel)” for solo horn by Andrea Clearfield, revealing the contemplative inner feelings of this new work.
The Montrose Trio (Martin Beaver, violin; Clive Greensmith, cello; and Jon Kimura Parker, piano) was joined by violist Aloysia Friedmann and gave a most moving presentation of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor. Excellent balance and style and a sensitive blend combined with a lyrical feeling for the French style, which culminated in an outstanding performance.
Friday and Saturday’s festival concerts moved to the Sarasota Opera House and featured faculty members accompanied by the orchestra of SMF fellows conducted by Kahane.
In “Triple Crown” June 7, Bach’s Triple Concerto in D Major featured Ani Kavafian, Diana Do Hyung Kim and Ann Sangeun Cho, violins, with Kahane conducting from the harpsichord. Both playing and ensemble were crisp and clean, and all was completely within accepted baroque style.
Two solo concertos followed, the Vivaldi Concerto for Bassoon in A Minor, played by Richard Svoboda, and Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major, featuring Nathan Hughes. These two soloists were outstanding in every way. Svoboda, principal bassoon of the Boston Symphony, performed with ease and elan throughout, including the rapid technically challenging passages of the final movement.
Hughes, principal oboe of the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, is a consummate artist of his instrument. His tone is at once small and graceful then commanding when needed, all accompanied by a nuance of phrasing and breath control that is seldom heard these days. He spun a lovely musical line in the lyrical second movement and gave the final Rondo just the amount of humor it needed. He is also a proud alumnus of SMF from a few years back.
The concert ended with Montrose Trio giving an absolutely uplifting and beautiful performance of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor. Written in the final years of his life, this trio shows the composer at his best in phrases of beautiful melody and outstanding musical form. The Montrose Trio plays as one performer, in perfect unity of sound, artistry and interpretation. Each movement was a gem of its own, especially the fleet-footed Scherzo, which could only belong to Mendelssohn.
I’m not sure if anyone in the near-capacity audience even breathed during this performance, but at the end they literally jumped to their feet and cheered.
Saturday’s concert, “Four, Two, One,” could have been anticlimactic, but it wasn’t — beginning with Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in B Minor for Four Violins, featuring SMF fellow violinists Camille Poirier-Lachance, Kenneth Ryu Takebe Naito, Qiaorong Ma and Xinyuan Wang. This concerto was typical Vivaldi, with lots of running passages, double stops and many, many notes, which didn’t seem to present any challenge to these outstanding young musicians.
It was followed by Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat Major for Violin and Viola, performed by SMF alumna Katherine Arndt, violin, and Cassia Drake, viola. Their seeming nonchalance was deceptive as they both gave virtuoso performances, trading off the musical phrases and dialogue with lovely sound and great accuracy. They were accompanied with great affection by Kahane and the orchestra.
However, Jon Kimura Parker’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major not only stole the show from everyone else, but it was also an extraordinary example of fine pianism and artistry.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 is not as strong or showy as some of his others, but you would never know it from the sensitivity — then musical fire — that Parker displayed. The musical lines were turned with taste and beauty, the balance was good, the accompaniment sensitive, and, well, it was a wonderful performance.
Once again, the audience rose as one and cheered as if its favorite batter had just won the game with a grand slam. We were rewarded with an impromptu piano duet rendition of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 6 with Kahane joining Parker.
For the SMF fellows to perform alongside the faculty is undoubtedly a transforming experience, and giving the fellows (and the audience) the opportunity to hear the faculty do their thing is a delight for one and all. I’m so happy there are two more weeks of this year’s Sarasota Music Festival performances. I wouldn’t miss any if I were you.