Angelo Xiang Yu, Nathan Mo, Clive Greensmith and many more students and faculty alike shine in first week of the festival.
If the first weekend at the Sarasota Opera House is any indication of what’s to come in the Sarasota Music Festival, then we’re all in for quite a ride.
Each of the two concerts gave us one treat after another, ending with an outstanding performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E flat, conducted by Larry Rachleff.
The faculty of the festival is enough to make any musician’s mouth water. There are at least five orchestral concert masters, 10 principal players and 14 college or conservatory professors — and at least 10 with impressive solo careers. Each faculty member visits Sarasota for a week to tutor and coach some 60 or more young players from leading music institutions across the United States and a few foreign countries.
These weekend concerts at the opera house cleverly combine faculty with students for performances and feature outstanding young soloists, some of whom are festival alumni.
Such was the case Friday night when cellist Nathan Mo shared the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor with faculty member Clive Greensmith. This concerto was so full of Vivaldi’s rapid passages, it could easily have been the “Fifth Season” in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” set of violin concerti. Faculty violinist Ani Kavafian thrilled the audience with her performance of “Summer” from that same “Four Seasons” as Friday night’s rousing finale.
Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted the evening from the keyboard, changing from harpsichord to piano for Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Major with two obligato flutes, played by student Lana Kuscer and faculty member Carol Wincenc.
The concert opened with a moving performance of Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor, played with great artistry and phrasing by oboist Allan Vogel and violinist Margaret Batjer, setting a high musical standard for the entire festival.
Saturday night, Slovenian flutist Lana Kuscer, a student at the University of North Texas, wove a beautiful spell in Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun,” partnered to perfection by conductor Rachleff and the orchestra, which played this tonality-bending piece with just the right amount of languid exoticism.
When Angelo Xiang Yu came on stage to play Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, his demeanor alone telegraphed that we were in for something special. That proved to be a distinct understatement when he proceeded to give one of the best performances I’ve heard of this violin showpiece. Born in Chinese Mongolia and trained in China and America, Yu is already a multiple winner of competitions and awards, and his playing is both self-assured and musically sensitive, something of a rare combination these days. His approach to playing is almost aggressive, calling to mind the talents of Michael Rabin, that 20th century virtuoso who died much too young. Whether the music called for tenderness, lyricism or out and out virtuosity, Yu was up to the task and more. As he concluded, the near capacity audience leapt to its feet in a richly deserved standing ovation.
The term “student” is in reality a misnomer, since these young musicians are already professionals who just happen to be young and still completing their training, which really never stops. After only three or four rehearsals, they play together with the proficiency and synergy of an established group. In the concluding Symphony No. 39 of Mozart, conductor Rachleff reseated the orchestra in the “European” seating, with violins divided left and right, and cellos and basses on the left, and led a sprightly, “lean and clean” performance more in Mozart’s classical style than the larger romanticized versions we still hear from time to time.
There are two more weekends of festival concerts to look forward to, including a world-premiere commission by and for the Sarasota Music Festival.
Oh, when looking at my notes before writing this, I found in the performance darkness I had scribbled, “Mozart would be smiling.” Me, too.