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Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota goes the distance to expand local music scene

The new Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota, which has an out-of-state director, will present its debut concert Dec. 20 at Church of the Redeemer.

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  • | 9:07 p.m. December 8, 2017
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Like any partner in a successful long-distance relationship, Robert Vodnoy has a plan.

He’s going to act as the music director of the recently formed Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota from a distance — from South Dakota, to be more specific — and if the group takes off, he’ll make his visits to Sarasota more frequent than his current sporadic pattern.

“Chamber orchestra is a specific kind of thing,” Vodnoy says of why he wanted to start the orchestra. “It’s bigger than a string quartet so the variety of music and quality seems more on the orchestral side, yet it’s not a big orchestra where the players are completely subservient to the big picture — it’s really a partnership amongst the players and conductor.”

He says he wanted to start this unique group of music makers for audiences and musicians alike to experience a type of happy medium between the quartets and symphonies.

The idea to create Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota first came from Vodnoy’s sister, local violinist (and now member of her brother’s orchestra) Laurie Vodnoy-Wright. Vodnoy-Wright is closely connected to the Sarasota music scene as a music teacher and performer, and several years ago she was upset to find there wasn’t an established chamber orchestra group to join.

Vodnoy-Wright encouraged her brother to fill the need many years ago, but it wasn’t until spring of this year that he began to seriously consider it.

In July, Vodnoy and his wife, Kayla, traveled to Sarasota to meet key players in the local classical music scene and get a sense of the interest. After presenting the idea of a chamber orchestra to musician friends and acquaintances, he was met by so much excitement that he started the group shortly after.

Now, the nonprofit orchestra consists of 14 experienced instrumentalists who Vodnoy-Wright was already acquainted with or had played with in other orchestras. There are other musicians interested in joining, Vodnoy says, but due to budget constraints the group must stick to its current size until after the first concert when it can re-evaluate.

Audiences will help determine the fate of that budget when the group debuts “Winter Splendor,” its first concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 20 at Church of the Redeemer.

“If the orchestra grows to the point where we can do concerts often, I can easily come down each month,” he says. “I think it’ll take two years or so, but the holiday concert is a good one to start with.”

Members Shawn Snider, Tami Guz, Ann Stephenson Moe, Robert Vodnoy, Laurie Vodnoy-Wright, Aaron Romm, Sean O'Neil, Lloyd Goldstein and former member (who recently moved and was replaced with Benjamin Karp) Luisa Bustamante Ruben
Members Shawn Snider, Tami Guz, Ann Stephenson Moe, Robert Vodnoy, Laurie Vodnoy-Wright, Aaron Romm, Sean O'Neil, Lloyd Goldstein and former member (who recently moved and was replaced with Benjamin Karp) Luisa Bustamante Ruben

Before he chose his musicians, Vodnoy says he chose the group’s repertoire. He knew exactly what he wanted his members to play, so he chose people he knew would excel with these specific pieces.

For “Winter Splendor,” those pieces include Vivaldi’s “Winter” from “The Four Seasons,” “Leroy Anderson’s “Christmas Carols for String Orchestra,” Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and others such as Wayne Barlow’s “Winter’s Passed.” He picked these pieces to highlight the talents of specific players.

Robert Vodnoy stays busy as director of orchestral activities and professor of strings at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., where he conducts the Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony Orchestra and teaches music history and applied strings.

Asked how he plans to add preparing a new orchestra for its debut concert (that happens to be located on the other side of the country) to his list of responsibilities, he was calm and collected.

“I am going to get to Florida on the 14th so I will have a rehearsal with the soloists on the 18th and then a full rehearsal with everyone on the 20th,” he says. “These are very experienced players and they all have no trouble preparing with that preparation cycle.”

As for his goals for the group, he’s keeping that simple, too: Create an intimate music experience that audiences will enjoy.

“There’s a feeling of immediacy and connectedness to the music making that is quite special,” he says of chamber orchestras. “I’m very glad to have the opportunity to make music in this particular way with musicians of this quality.”


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