Last week included two divergent musical offerings: special chamber music and a completely different kind of pops concert.
First, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center paid a much-anticipated encore visit with the Sarasota Concert Association, bringing an evening of romantic music that was special in every way.
Pianist Wu Han, who is co-artistic director with her husband, cellist David Finckel, began with a cheery and witty introduction, explaining the student-teacher relationship and friendship of the evening’s composers.
Violinist Daniel Hope and violist Paul Neubauer joined the couple to open the concert with Joseph Suk’s Quartet in A minor. Full of the romanticism of youth, the music gave a warm and comforting start to the evening, especially the lovely lyricism of the second movement, beautifully introduced by Finckel’s cello.
Brahms’ great infatuation and love for pianist Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann, is well known, and that love was expressed throughout his music. His Third Piano Quartet is a most eloquent statement of his feelings, giving us some of his richest and most romantic writing.
The concert ended with the great Dvorák Quartet in E flat. Dvorák must have been in a pleasant mood when this piece was written, for it is full of charming folk rhythms and dances, jolly from beginning to end. Each movement created a lovely landscape of sound, with a rousing tarantella-like dance the last movement whirling to an exciting end.
Throughout the evening these fine musicians played as if of one mind and body, leaning, listening and treating each and every nuance with great care and love. Yet they never yielded to excess or exaggeration, even in the cavernous acoustic of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
On the other hand, an orchestral concert in the confines of Holley Hall in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center has to be more of an event than an experience of musical subtlety.
The Sarasota Orchestra’s Great Escapes Series is much in the style of the famed Boston Pops concerts, offering light bites and drinks along with a musical meal. The series is now so popular that, due to the demand for tickets, it is presented five times. Only Saturday concerts offer refreshments, the rest are shorter 70-80 minute performances with no intermission. Saturday’s concert, “Shuffle,” offered a chance for the audience to select the program. Upon entry, each audience member was given a number and a list of compositions in the evening’s repertoire. Later, the evening’s host, Key Chorale Artistic Director Joseph Caulkins, called out a number — yes, musical bingo — and the holder of the number shouted out the number of the selection of their choice.
The selections for the first half were grouped as “Light Classics” and the second half as “Pops” and “Greatest Hits” could have been added, for that’s what it turned out to be. Some of the choices were von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry” Overture, Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture, and a most welcome — and softer —“Girl With the Flaxen Hair” of Debussy.
The music of Richard Rodgers, the Beatles and Duke Ellington kept the second half moving and the hall could barely contain all of John Williams’ “Superman March,” which closed the evening, save for the “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” presented as a welcome and quiet ending to a fun evening for all.
These two concerts, with virtually nothing in common, sent me a big message in every way. They could have been linked as “Two Groups in Search of a Hall,” for each brought forth in bold capitalization the need for a dedicated concert facility in Sarasota. Van Wezel is indeed much too large for chamber music and Holley Hall is much too small for an orchestra concert. And that’s just the surface. Sarasota’s music, arts and general cultural scene is expanding in direct proportion to our population, and to keep up with the pace, a new concert hall is right at the top of the list.
Correction: The print version of this story featured the incorrect name for the Great Escapes series, the incorrect performance time and the incorrect name for the "Light Cavalry" Overture.