The annual music speaker series hosted by June LeBell has already sold more than 700 subscriptions for the upcoming season. And that was before speakers had been announced.
LeBell (the Observer’s music critic and classical music announcer) curates and hosts the conversation-based program that features live music and interviews. She puts it best:
“I want to make the audience feel as if they are in my living room and participating with someone extremely interesting,” she says.
One interview that was particularly interesting was when young classical pianist Charlie Albright spoke as part of the series in January 2013. Albright began talking about how he played rock music as a child. To demonstrate, he went to the piano and played “Great Balls of Fire.” It left such an impression on the audience, he’s returning in the upcoming season March 2.
Last season’s 475 subscriptions sold out in nine days. This year the series is moving from Holley Hall to Church of the Palms, 3224 Bee Ridge Road, to accommodate nearly double the people.
One reason for the program’s success might be because one never knows what to expect. LeBell never writes out her questions; nothing (aside from the music selections played during the interview) is planned in advance.
“I just open my mouth and whatever pops out pops out,” LeBell says.
If practice really does make perfect, then LeBell’s extensive career interviewing famous arts figures on New York City’s WQXR for 30 years indicates what you could expect.
It’s something to which broadcaster Margaret Juntwait can relate. Juntwait is the nationally known announcer for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and will speak as part of 2015 Music Mondays Jan. 19.
In Music Mondays, it’s not only the conversations that flow naturally. For instance, 79-year-old dancer Jacques d’Amboise choreographed a series of steps on the spot. Live performance is a big part of why the program sells so many tickets.
But another part of why tickets sell so well is because the program brings to Sarasota what attendees can’t normally get here. For example, leading off the series Jan. 5 is composer Theodore Morrison. Attendees will hear live portions of his opera “Oscar” about the last days of Oscar Wilde, which premiered in 2013 at the Santa Fe Opera.
Some of the interviewees have local ties. Baritone Todd Thomas will speak March 9. He’s not only one of the nation’s most sought-after singers, but LeBell says he portrays the meanest Scarpia she’s ever seen. He’s returning to the Sarasota Opera this season and, fortunately for the audience, will perform live in this season’s Music Monday series.
Also locally known is Jay Hunsberger. He is the principal tubist with Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Brass Quintet.
Then there are some wild cards. LeBell is particularly excited for Paul Novograd to speak about All Tame Animals, the supplier of animals to the Metropolitan opera.
“I think one of the reasons we sell out is because the audience trusts that between me and my advisory committee that we’ll bring people they’re interested in,” LeBell says.
IF YOU GO
2015 Musical Conversations with Great Performers
When: 10:30 a.m. Mondays from January through March
Jan. 5 — Theodore Morrison, composer
Jan. 12 — Paula Robison, flutist
Jan. 19 — Margaret Juntwait, broadcaster
Jan. 26 — George Nickson and Sarasota Orchestra percussionists
Feb. 2 — Barbara Hocher, executive director of Marilyn Horne Foundation and former opera singer
Feb. 9 — William Bolcom and Joan Morris, vaudeville and cabaret pianist and singer
Feb. 16 — Jay Hunsberger, tubist
Feb. 23 — All Tame Animals, animal purveyors
March 2 — Charlie Albright, pianist
March 9 — Todd Thomas, baritone
March 16 — John Keene, chorus master Seattle Opera
March 23 — Moran Katz, clarinetist
Where: Church of the Palms, 3224 Bee Ridge Road
Cost: Series subscription is $85. Single tickets will be sold at the door.
Info: Call 365-6404, or visit sillsarasota.org.