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Orchestra rings in 2010 with benefit concert

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 6, 2010
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Sarasota Orchestra is banking on a fresh start. After spending the last half of 2009 mending labor disputes caused by budget shortfalls, orchestra officials are hoping a benefit concert featuring two high-profile musicians will help boost morale and mitigate musician pay cuts.

The Jan. 16 concert will feature Sarasota Music Festival Artistic Director Robert Levin, a celebrated Mozart pianist and composer, and Grammy Award-winning violinist James Ehnes.

Both Levin, 62, and Ehnes, 33, are internationally acclaimed soloists with ties to the organization. Levin has served on the faculty of the Sarasota Music Festival since 1979 and Ehnes, a Bradenton resident, has performed as a soloist with the Sarasota Orchestra the past two seasons and is close with many of the musicians.

Led by Maestro Leif Bjaland, the orchestra will open with Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture” and close with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espanola.” A champagne-and-dessert reception will follow; concert sponsors include Bjaland, Jules and Sheila Rose, Toby and Noel Siegel and Anne Nethercott.

All proceeds from the event will directly benefit the orchestra’s musicians, who earlier last month conceded a 2.5% pay cut, the result of a shorter season. The new two-year contract took seven months to negotiate and includes a 2.5% bonus for all musicians if the orchestra meets its fundraising goals in the second season.

“It’s something I feel pretty strongly about,” Ehnes says. “There was a reasonably bitter conflict with the expiration of the last contract, and I think the one thing this concert is a celebration of is the fact that everyone has reached an agreement — at least for the time being.”

Ehnes, who won a Grammy in 2008 for his “Barber/Korngold/Walton: Violin Concertos” album, will perform Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto.” Levin, a Harvard University music professor with a reputation for embellishing, reconstructing and completing unfinished works by Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20.

According to orchestra CEO Joe McKenna, this is the first time in the organization’s 60-year history that a concert is being produced to solely benefit the musicians — and it likely won’t be the last.

“There’s a great opportunity here to help focus our community on the needs of the musicians,” McKenna says. “I can’t think of a better way to start a new decade than to feature the orchestra and two world-class musicians. I think it’s a promising concept.”

Orchestras and symphonies across the country that are under financial strain are embracing similar fundraising tactics. In November, the Honolulu Symphony hosted a benefit concert featuring recital pianist and National Public Radio host Christopher O’Riley after budget cuts cost musicians their medical coverage.

“I think the average person might not realize how much time and energy musicians devote to their jobs,” Ehnes says. “Practicing, studying, working toward the goal of these concerts — it consumes every minute of every day. Hopefully this concert will be a way of reaching out to the community and showing off what we have — which is one of the top orchestras — if not the top orchestra, in the state.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]

Sarasota Orchestra’s benefit concert, featuring James Ehnes and Robert Levin, will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, at the Sarasota Opera House. For tickets, visit Tickets to the champagne-and-dessert reception are sold separately.


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