When it comes to expanding its reach, what could be better than playing in wide, open spaces free for all?
Born last year out of a pandemic-propelled move toward open-air entertainment, Sarasota Orchestra’s free outdoor concert series was an instant hit with local audiences. Now the event is here to stay.
The second season of On the Road with Sarasota Orchestra: Parks and Partners begins on Nov. 21 and ends on April 24. It will include eight chamber music concerts, with ensembles performing on Sundays at area public parks and partner venues in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Although the orchestra hosted limited indoor performances last season with stringed instruments, because those players could wear a mask while playing, the outdoor performances were planned as a way to give some of the wind and brass instruments a venue to play safely.
“We originally created the series in response to the pandemic, and the goal was to have our wind and brass musicians play in outdoor settings,” McKenna says. “The parks also offered an ideal setting for safe social distancing and an alternative option for patrons who did not feel comfortable attending live concerts indoors. The concerts received an overwhelmingly positive response.”
What ended up happening was the parks' venues allowed the orchestra to reach audiences who may not previously been familiar with the organization or its varied offerings, which range from large masterworks concerts to family-friendly pops performances.
"The wonderful benefit to performing in a park is that we also reach parkgoers that happen upon a concert and end up enjoying it as well,” McKenna says. “In our first season, several performance venues were located near park playgrounds, which caught the attention of families who were there.”
The opening concert of this season, featuring the Sarasota Brass Quintet, will take place at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21 at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton. The group’s performances throughout the series will include a mix of standard quintet literature and pops selections — from the clarion sounds of the Baroque to contemporary jazz — and take listeners on a different musical tour at each concert. The series will also feature concerts by the Sarasota Wind Quintet, including two playground performances specifically designed for children and families.
The varied lineup of the 2021-2022 season will continue to build on the impressive success of the inaugural series.
“This series offers an opportunity for our organization to further our mission to engage, educate and enrich our community through high-quality, live musical experiences,” says Joseph McKenna, the president and CEO of Sarasota Orchestra, in a news release.
In fact, the series was recently announced as a finalist for the Impact100 SRQ awards. The event is supported, in part, by BMO Wealth Management, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and Sherry and Thomas Koski.
The 1949-founded, 76-member Sarasota Orchestra is the oldest continuing orchestra in Florida. Each year, musicians perform more than 100 classical, pops, chamber music and community outreach concerts. The Parks and Partners series is just another example of the latter.
“Sarasota Orchestra was looking for opportunities to engage the broader community with free, live classical music. These concerts are designed to be casual and welcoming to both new and seasoned classical music lovers,” McKenna says. “Through this partnership with parks, we are able to reach new patrons in beautiful and safe settings. Our musicians make the experience inviting and welcoming by sharing insights and commentary with the audience that enhances the connection to the music.”
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