This past week, we were able to present a “reimagined” Sarasota Music Festival comprising four performances and a lecture-recital. Each program was a revelation in itself, and one could sense that each artist was dipping their toe back into their lives as performers. Rather than waxing poetic on the merits of each individual performance, I want to focus on the very final program of the 2021 festival featuring the Calidore String Quartet and Jeffrey Kahane.
An alumna of the 2018 Sarasota Music Festival, pianist Angie Zhang is currently pursuing both a Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance and a Master of Music in Fortepiano Performance at the University of Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Music with Honors and Master of Music at The Juilliard School. This year, Zhang returns to SMF, bringing her “warmly expressive, sensitive, and polished” artistry (New York Concert Review) to the third Festival Concert, Dedications. In this interview, she shares treasured SMF memories, what makes SMF unlike any other music festival, and insights into her recital program for SMF 2021.
For me, the month of June is synonymous with the Sarasota Music Festival. As a young pianist, I spent four Junes there as a festival participant, and I have joyfully returned as Associate Faculty every year since 2000. For decades now, the three weeks of the festival have been and continue to be my favorite time of the year. Indeed, all of my friends know that by Christmas I literally start counting the days until June! What is it about the Sarasota Music Festival that inspires such anticipation? It boils down to a wonderful blend of music and people.
In the early 1990s, our Orchestra had begun to morph from a fine community orchestra into a fully professional ensemble, and part of the way we made that transition was to emphasize chamber music. It is the most intimate kind of music making, requiring constant communication both verbal and non-verbal among the players, and it allows us to take full responsibility for every aspect of a performance. For this reason, playing chamber music is among the most challenging, most rewarding, and most beneficial things an organization can do to build artistic quality. The 2021-2022 season will serve up eight Chamber Soirée programs, each one rich with extraordinary music from the past 300 years.
Thirty-two years ago in 1989, a stroke of genius bolted through the Orchestra Center: Then-Music Director Paul Wolfe and our management team envisioned the idea for a “Boston Pops-style” chamber orchestra series. Christened “Enchanted Evenings,” it was a magical combination of light classics and pops interspersed with commentary and comedy from the podium and, occasionally, from orchestra musicians themselves. The series became one of our most popular offerings almost immediately, and what began as one Saturday night concert grew to our current four or five per week as the Great Escapes concept and series has proven to be one of the most enduring and most beloved by our audiences.
Playing in a chamber orchestra is among the most challenging and rewarding work that I do. Sitting onstage in a smaller orchestra, usually 50 players or less, the music-making feels more intimate and personal, and every musician knows that their role is vital. And while performing a Mahler symphony in the midst of a 100+-piece orchestra will always remain thrilling on a visceral level, the experience of playing a Mozart symphony is equally satisfying. With the smaller complement of musicians that Mozart himself envisioned, every individual line is heard, and the delicate changes of harmony or tone color have added impact.