by Jean Schneider, SMF Associate Faculty
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. The festival founder, Paul Wolfe, inspired this spirit of delight in and devotion to playing chamber music at the highest level of excellence, with friends both new and old, and sharing it with the community in beautiful Sarasota. The festival has welcomed new directions and exciting innovation, but that unique spirit remains: the faculty embodies it, the fellows embrace it, and the audiences perceive it.
My heart sank when the pandemic meant we couldn’t gather for the Sarasota Music Festival in 2020, but I am buoyed that this June it has returned, albeit not in full, but with its same level of passion and brilliance. The halls of the Orchestra Center may not be filled with sounds of the festival fellows and faculty rehearsing for three weeks, but the five events that will be presented from June 12-19 showcase all that the Sarasota Music Festival represents.
The first concert on Saturday, June 12, is a prime example, featuring violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and pianist Feng Niu in works by Mozart, Britten, and Beethoven. We were all truly wowed by this remarkable artist when Angelo performed the Bruch Concerto in 2018, and he immediately returned to the festival in 2019 as faculty. He brings such depth and sincerity to the music along with the most exquisite sound. In these pieces the piano is an equal, so how lovely it will be to hear Feng Niu in this concert of duos.
On Wednesday, June 16, SMF Music Director Jeffrey Kahane joins faculty cellist Clive Greensmith for a performance of Brahms’ cello sonatas. These two monumental masterpieces, staples of the cello repertoire, meet two monumental musicians, and I cannot imagine a more wonderful pairing.
The heart of the Sarasota Music Festival is teaching, and young musicians come from around the world to work with the renowned faculty. But these festival fellows are emerging artists making a mark on the world, and what a delight it is when they return to perform. This year the wonderful pianist Angie Zhang, an alumna from 2018, is presented on Friday, June 18 in a recital of Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Caroline Shaw’s Gustave le Gray, which the composer calls “a multi-layered portrait of [Chopin’s Mazurka] Op. 17, No. 4,” followed by the Chopin B Minor Sonata. Such a great program!
The Calidore String Quartet performs the concluding concert on Saturday, June 19, in which they will be joined by Jeffrey Kahane for the beloved Schumann Piano Quintet followed by the Mendelssohn Quartet in F Minor, his last significant work and written in homage to his sister, Fanny, after her death. By the way, how wonderful is it that two members of this acclaimed string quartet were alums just a decade ago and now return to perform with the festival’s artistic leader?
Speaking of Jeffrey Kahane, don’t miss his lecture on Sunday, June 13 on “The Romantic Revolution.” (Check out his podcast series, Classical Music in America, too!) Jeffrey’s musical knowledge is absolutely extraordinary, and how he conveys his understanding is so engaging. In addition to such formal presentations, I really consider myself lucky to have heard (or overheard) some fascinating musical discussions that arise just over meals each June.
It is truly from the bottom of my heart that I write so exuberantly about the merits of the Sarasota Music Festival. I won’t be there in person this year, but I will stream every event and I hope all of you will, too (unless you are among the lucky few to be there in Holley Hall). Oh, and you can be certain that I am already counting the days until returning next June!