by Betsy Hudson Traba, Principal Flute
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.
For this reason, the Discoveries series has been near and dear to my heart since its inauguration five seasons ago. Designed to spotlight chamber orchestra gems by master composers, this unique concert series is held in the more intimate venue of the Sarasota Opera House, offering both orchestra and audience the opportunity for a profound connection to the music and each other.
Each program of the 2021-2022 Discoveries series features the music of Mozart alongside other masters including Vivaldi, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. The spotlight on Mozart includes two of his symphonies as well as one of his most popular piano concertos. The October 2 program, Rebirth, will likely be an especially emotional evening, as it will be the very first performance of the full chamber orchestra in almost 18 months. Dominic Cheli will join us as the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, a work of dark, brooding power that was Beethoven’s favorite. Kensho Watanabe, most recently Assistant Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, will lead Robert Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony, a joyous tribute to the reawakening of life. The program opens with Seven O'Clock Shout, a 2020 commission by the Philadelphia Orchestra from American composer Valerie Coleman. Coleman writes, “I created Seven O'clock Shout to address the front-line workers who come home at 7 p.m. to shouts and cheers and clanging pots and pans. That very ritual has become the embodiment of humanity.” We may have flutes and violins instead of pots and pans, but the joy will be equally palpable as Sarasota Orchestra jubilantly returns to full orchestra performances.
On December 22 we usher in the holidays with Winter Dreams, a program featuring 22-year-old, New Zealand-born violinist Geneva Lewis, who has become one of the fastest rising stars in the violin world. She’ll perform the gorgeous “Méditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs and the Winter concerto from Vivaldi’s iconic Four Seasons. Sameer Patel, most recently Associate Conductor of the San Diego Symphony, opens the program with Claude Debussy’s intimate Petite Suite and the “Adoration of the Magi” by Respighi. Both pieces feature gorgeous extended solos for the winds and the delicate, transparent writing that is perfect for chamber orchestra. Mozart’s grand “Paris” Symphony concludes the concert with a bit of swagger, as Mozart wrote it to impress his Parisian audience while on tour in 1778. He was quite proud of the work (his first piece to use the newly invented clarinet) and wrote to his father that the audience erupted in applause multiple times during the premiere. I hope you feel the same way!
The Genius of Youth program on May 14, 2022 is a tribute to the extraordinary accomplishments of young artists. Ifetayo Ali-Landing, still a teenager herself, will be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s charming Rococo Variations. Ali-Landing was the First Place Laureate in the Sphinx Competition’s Junior Division, has been featured on NPR’s From the Top, and has already performed as a soloist with the Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, among others. Stephen Mulligan, most recently Associate Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, will lead the Orchestra in Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonietta No. 1, written when Britten was only 18 and lovingly dedicated to his teacher. We conclude the Discoveries series with Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G Minor. Written when Mozart was just 17, the work is one of only two symphonies Mozart composed in a minor key and was considered quite “revolutionary” at the time. We all know that teenagers are prone to pushing against the boundaries of tradition, and it appears that even Mozart was relatively typical in that way! The result is a simply spectacular work by a young genius just starting to stretch his compositional wings. What better way to conclude this most remarkable season of Discoveries?
We hope you will join us!