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Sarasota Music Festival kicks off its 60th anniversary celebration on a high note

SMF Music Director Jeffrey Kahane proves a brilliant pianist and collaborator.

Sarasota Music Festival Director Jeffrey Kahane on harpsichord and flutist Marianne Gedigian perform Francois Couperin’s “Le Rossignol en Amour" June 2 at the 60th anniversary celebration concert.
Sarasota Music Festival Director Jeffrey Kahane on harpsichord and flutist Marianne Gedigian perform Francois Couperin’s “Le Rossignol en Amour" June 2 at the 60th anniversary celebration concert.
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One would think that the Sarasota Music Festival would mark its 60th anniversary with a celebration concert in a far larger venue than Holley Hall. But the venue for a straightforward program of a solo, two duos and a rousing piano trio was likely closer to the heart of this festival than a big auditorium. Back in 1965, everything was held in a small hall and the festival gatherings were more intimate. 

With Holley Hall busting at the seams with 500 people, you could feel the enthusiasm even before the first selection was played on Sunday, June 2. After delivering opening remarks, SMF Music Director Jeffrey Kahane was joined on stage by flutist Marianne Gedigian to perform Francois Couperin’s “Le Rossignol en Amour." The charmer was part of the opening concert of the 1965 festival premiere. 

Gedigian, a festival alumna from 1986 who is new to the SMF faculty this year, has a beautiful tone that transitions easily in textures and strength. She was generous with the ornamentation of the simple lines, getting increasingly more florid like a songbird’s warbles. She and Kahane on harpsichord played with great delicacy and grace. 

Returning to the stage with pianist Jean Schneider, Gedigian captured the jazzy, bird-like and mutlifaceted charms of Bohuslav Martinŭ’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. 

Truly an equal partnership, the two blended together so well that at times it was hard to hear two voices for the textured effect of the score. The two captured the playfulness of the lines as well as sultry smooth wanderings, turning to a more spirited chase by the end of the sonata. 

Cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdóttir shared a rare beauty in the solo "Portrait" by award-winning film composer Jane Antonia Cornish, whose music explores the themes of time, silence, light, reflection and transcendence. I listened for a couple minutes with analytical ears and soon realized this was music to sink into with open senses and spirit. 

Perhaps simple in structure, but in terms of harmonics and the aural layers hanging on as the cellist plays unceasing arpeggios, this was uniquely memorable. 

Turning back to the bread and butter of festivals past, violinist Arnaud Sussman walked out with Kahane and Thorsteinsdóttir for a lusty performance of Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No.1 in D Minor, Op. 32.

Influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, Arensky’s music is full-bodied and as passionate as any late romantic you can name. Kahane is a brilliant pianist and collaborator and we heard both Sussman and Thorsteinsdóttir dovetailing to carry the lines seamlessly. Even from the back of the hall, I could see the smiles and knowing glances underscoring the glue that makes an ensemble exceptional.  

Sussman and Thorsteinsdóttir are both joining the SMF faculty this year. Based on what we heard in this concert alone, I am looking forward to the rest of the performances at the festival, which runs through June 22.



Gayle Williams

Gayle Williams is a graduate of Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music in Ohio. She was the principal flute of the Venice Symphony for 17 seasons and has performed with the Florida West Coast Symphony, Sarasota Pops and Cleveland German Orchestra. Williams has been writing concert reviews since 2001, most recently at the Herald Tribune Media Group, from 2002-2023.

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