The March 23 program will feature the works of five Jewish composers.
| 4:00 p.m. March 13, 2023
Arts + Culture
Question: How will “Celebration,” the Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota’s final concert of its sixth season, differ from all previous performances?
Answer: It’s the first time the orchestra will commemorate a non-musical event, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, with a special concert of music by five Jewish composers. It’s also the first major solo performance by Christina Adams, who was named Chamber Orchestra concertmaster in February 2022.
But that’s not all. “Celebration” also marks the first time that the Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota will perform original works by two living Israeli composers, Boris Levenberg and Noubar Aslanyan. “That’s really something quite special for us,” says Robert Vodnoy, Sarasota Chamber Orchestra’s music director, conductor and founder.
“Celebration” will also feature works by Felix Mendelssohn, George Gershwin and Ernest Bloch. It will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota.
Audiences can anticipate three soloist showcases over the course of the evening. Violinist Adams will play “Hasidic Scene (Kaddish and Dance) for Violin and Strings” by Russian/Israeli composer Levenberg.
Robert Smith, principal trumpet of The Florida Orchestra, will be the guest soloist for Trumpet Concertino by Armenian/Israeli composer Aslanyan. Pianist Ann Stephenson-Moe is the featured soloist for Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings with Piano Obbligato.
“Music by Jewish composers reflects the historical, cultural and religious experiences of the composers themselves. This program spans two centuries of music and reflects the composers’ lives in Europe, Russia, the United States, and modern Israel,” says Vodnoy. “The repertoire is enormous, but I’ve chosen some composers and works the audience will know and love and some new works which I’m sure will thrill them.”
A conductor’s programming journey
Once Vodnoy decided that the chamber orchestra he founded in 2017 would commemorate Israel’s 75th Anniversary, creating the program became a rich and joyful experience. It also could be called preordained. Not only was the Maestro born in 1948, the year of the founding of the state of Israel, he was about to go there on vacation.
“My wife and I had planned an Israel trip with the Jewish Congregation of Venice where we are members, so I thought that I might be able to program a piece or two by Israeli composers and meet them when we were in Israel,” says Vodnoy. The problem was that he didn’t know any.
“So, I just Googled ‘living Israeli composers’ and found the website of the Israel Composers’ League (IsraelComposers.org),” he says. The website was equipped with a comprehensive search engine with parameters that included length of music and instrumentation. The latter is particularly important for a chamber orchestra since the word "chamber" designates a group of 25 or fewer musicians (the Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota has 19).
The Composers’ League website also had recordings of each work. Vodnoy selected a couple of dozen and started to listen. “There was a lot of music I liked but these two (the Levenberg and the Aslanyan) met other programming goals.”
After that, he went ahead and got in touch with the composers, met with them while he was in Israel, and even recorded video interviews with them. They can be viewed at the orchestra's website along with clips from other recent Chamber Orchestra of Sarasota concerts.
After locking in the Israeli composers, Vodnoy turned his attention to finalizing all the music for “Celebration." The Bloch Concerto will anchor the end of the concert. While that work doesn’t use the Jewish text or themes that Bloch is known for, “his ethnic identity is certainly felt in the pieces,” says Vodnoy.
Vodnoy also knew that he wanted to include works by Ira Gershwin and Felix Mendelssohn, partly because the music is recognizable to audiences. “When I program concerts, I try to include composers where the audience can say, ‘I know his music.’” Thus, the evening will open with Mendelssohn’s youthful Symphony No. 10, composed when he was only 14 years old, while George Gershwin’s “Lullaby” will add a jazzy feel to the program.
"Celebration” is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, Leigh and Harvey Cohen, Nancy Gold and Bruce Lehman, with additional support from Barbara Bankoff and Robert Crandall.