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Music review: Music Festival Weekend Two

Students and faculty continue to impress in Sarasota Music Festival's second weekend.

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  • | 6:09 p.m. June 18, 2017
Brett Mitchell
Brett Mitchell
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Last Friday’s concert of the Sarasota Music Festival was dedicated to the memory of June LeBell, broadcaster, host of SILL’s Music Mondays, classical music reviewer for the Observer Group, and — my wife. Brief but moving opening remarks were made by Robert Levin, former artistic director, who was returning for his 38th year.

Barber’s “Summer Music”opened this chamber music concert, with students Christine Murphy, flute, Breana Gilcher, oboe, and Sara Aratake, clarinet, joined by faculty members William VerMeulen, horn and Nancy Geores, bassoon, in an  excellent performance. Alternating brisk and rapid passages with more contemplative ones, Barber gives us an evocative portrait of a quiet summer evening, interrupted by firefly or birdlike twitters and soothed by calming contrapuntal passages which could signal the coming of nightfall.

Robert Levin
Robert Levin

Mendelssohn’s delightful 2nd String Quintet was next, with Madeline Adkins and Felicity James, violins, Carrie Jones and Thomas Duboski, violas, and Natalie Helm, cello, and it was given a rousing and energetic performance. Several passages are pleasant reminders of his earlier works, namely the octet and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” yet this is an excellent example of Mendelssohn at his finest.

Brahms’ massive Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major closed the concert, featuring faculty members Robert Levin, piano, Alexander Kerr, violin, Robert Vernon, viola and Timothy Eddy, cello. Certainly of symphonic proportions, this thorny work has such an abundance of musical ideas and working out of themes that it is not easily assimilated on first hearing, but still its innate artistry, construction, and majesty make it a worthy challenge for any audience. From the fiery opening chords of the first movement, through the lyrical song-like writing of the second, to the long working out of the themes in the finale, the work creates a lasting impression.  There was a lot of good listening to do in this first-rate performance by these fine players. A few imperfections in intonation were easily pardoned in the overall sweep of sound.

Alexander Kerr
Alexander Kerr

Saturday’s concert opened with Stravinsky’s  “Dumbarton Oaks Concerto” for orchestra, which could appear an odd choice in an otherwise Mozart evening, but it actually wasn’t. Written in Stravinsky’s neoclassical period in which he abandoned the complexities of his earlier works for a seemingly simpler and more classical style, this was “lean and mean” writing: lean since the texture was clean and clear, and perhaps a bit mean, since every voice was virtually a solo and there was no place to hide, musically speaking. There was certainly no need to hide, for the musicians were more than up to the task, giving us a performance that highlighted each of the players and sections in this somewhat playful, but deadly serious piece.

Alexander Kerr, currently concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, was soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto # 3, written when Mozart was 19 and Concertmaster of the Salzburg Court Orchestra. Kerr  plays with a clean, clear sound, and good technique,  with excellent execution and musical taste, especially in the lyrical second movement, which was beautiful music making at its finest.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor ended the evening, showcasing both the increasing artistry of the orchestra and introducing a new conductor to the  Festival. Brett Mitchell, conductor of the Colorado Philharmonic and a slew of guest engagements, is a real find. His spare yet eloquent technique brought forth all the lovely contours of the work without sacrificing any of the precision. Often conducting phrases more than measures, Mitchell and the orchestra created  a beautiful, moving and mature performance that made it even more difficult to realize this is nominally a student festival orchestra and not an ongoing entity. Yes, it was that good!


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