Musical Musings

The Sarasota Orchestra Blog

Nikolai Zverev & Students

Sergei Rachmaninoff and his mentor, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, share a penchant for melody. However, the similarities don't stop there.

#1 Not Destined for Composition, Were They

Tchaikovsky's parents intended that Pyotr study law and work in civil service. He shocked them by becoming a composer instead. Granted, Tchaikovsky's ultimate earning potential in civil service vs. music probably wasn't terribly different!

It was always obvious that Rachmaninoff would be a musician. However, nobody thought he would, or even should, be a composer. Such sentiment included his own teacher Nikolai Zverev, who discouraged him from composition and they eventually stopped speaking as a result. Clearly, his teachers and critics grossly underestimated modern audiences' obsession with virtuosity.

#2 Childhood Trauma

Tchaikovsky was sent to a boarding school at the young age of ten. Already troubled by the separation from his parents, his mother died when he was just fourteen.

Rachmaninoff's parents were wealthy but his dad squandered the inheritance through various ill-reputed pursuits, causing his parents to divorce when he was ten.

#3 Depression

Both composers deeply struggled with depression. Tchaikovsky's was due in large part to being gay in a time and place that couldn't deal with it.

Rachmaninoff's came from his desire to be a composer. Even though he was a famous pianist, Rachmaninoff faced considerable criticism for his compositions. The premiere of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1 was terrible with typical criticism such as this from César Cui:

"If there were a conservatory in Hell, if one of its talented students were instructed to write a program symphony on 'The Seven Plagues of Egypt,' and if he were to compose a symphony like Mr. Rachmaninoff's, then he would have fulfilled his task brilliantly and would bring delight to the inhabitants of Hell."

César Cui

Rachmaninoff didn't compose a single note for three years. Following much psychotherapy, Rachmaninoff got over his depression-induced writer's block enough to compose the Second Piano Concerto in 1900.

See this video of Perry So conducting the Hong Kong Phil. He is known for how expressive he is while conducting. This video illustrates why.

I couldn't be more excited to see guest conductor Perry So lead the Sarasota Orchestra at the upcoming Masterworks concert. Why? Well, he's one of the world's most in-demand young conductors. Just this season alone, he will make his debut with the Houston, New Jersey, Grand Rapids, Omaha, Shanghai and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestras. Did I forget to mention that one of those debuts is with the Sarasota Orchestra?

And if that wasn't convincing enough, Geoffrey Newman of Vancouver Classical Music had this to say about Perry So:

"This was a conquest for this young conductor. His orchestral control is really stunning, and the sheer quickness of execution and massed power that he coaxed out of the orchestra is something we do not see that often... An inspired concert."

Geoffrey Newman of Vancouver Classical Music

Another cool tidbit? Perry So was an inaugural Dudamel Conducting Fellow at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which, is quite the honor. Dudamel is one of the most exciting personalities in classical music.

A frequent guest conductor on five continents, he also likes to stick to his roots. Perry was born in Hong Kong, and recently concluded four years with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra as Associate Conductor.

This season he gives three world premieres, one of which, will be local Sarasota composer Jerry Billik's world premiere of "Symphony in M-L." It's always thrilling to be one of the first audiences to hear a new piece of work.

There is so much going on at this Masterworks concert Eroica, the last word I’d use is ‘stuffy.’ This is evidence that classical music is alive, dynamic and worth experiencing live! If you'd like to check it out, learn more here.

Lauren Hersh

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Lauren Hersh, the newest addition to the Development team.

In her newly created role, Director of Donor Engagement, Individual and Corporate, Lauren works directly with corporations, foundations, and a portfolio of individual donors to the Orchestra.

A Sarasota native (and Riverview High alumna), Lauren's love of music started at a very early age. She even played flute with the Sarasota Orchestra’s youth orchestra during high school and also participated in the Debutante program.

She went on to DePauw University in Indiana, where she received her bachelor of music in music business and flute performance. (And yes, she does still find time to practice the flute! She told me she was just playing some Handel sonatas at home.)

Following her studies, she moved to New York City, where she worked with the New York Philharmonic and Young Concert Artists, before deciding to move back to Sarasota.

"Working with the New York Phil was wonderful, but here at the Sarasota Orchestra, we are so fortunate to really know our patrons. It's a close-knit family. We have a very philanthropic community, which I just love. It's so unique to Sarasota, which is why we moved back."

Lauren Hersh

One of her favorite perks of the new gig? Hearing the musicians rehearse through the walls!

Beethoven"Beethoven changes what it means to be a concerto... He was the first to set the piano against the orchestra. The soloist and the orchestra are in a dialogue - as if in battle."

George Nickson, principal percussion with the Sarasota Orchestra

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed his fifth and final piano concerto shortly after the French occupation of Vienna—a less than ideal situation, as the composer himself described:

"What a destructive, unruly life around me! Nothing but drums, cannons, human misery of all sorts!"

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Battling against his inevitable hearing loss, Beethoven had also been forced to take refuge in his brother Kaspar's basement, burying his head in pillows in a vain attempt to protect his ears. In spite of the calamitous circumstances surrounding its conception, the Piano Concerto No. 5 is considered by many to be the culmination both chronologically and stylistically of Beethoven's efforts in the genre. 

By the time of the work's premiere in 1811, deafness had effectively put an end to his performing career. Perhaps because he could no longer serve as soloist, the Emperor was the last piano concerto Beethoven would ever write.

In addition to its generally heroic tone, the work also uses the key of E-flat major, which Beethoven also used in the Symphony No. 3, Eroica (1803). You can hear Beethoven's third symphony in the second Masterworks concert of the season (aptly titled, Eroica). 

We'll have Marc-André Hamelin joining us as the soloist for the Emperor piano concerto, which George Nickson, principal percussion, says is a great treat for the Orchestra.

"He is one of the world's greatest virtuosos of the piano. He is really widely-known for having one of the greatest techniques on the instrument. It's great that we have him here in Sarasota."

George Nickson, principal percussion with the Sarasota Orchestra

If you don't already have your tickets to Masterworks The Emperor on November 6-8, click here.

{adapted from Program Notes written by Jennifer Glagov}

Dmitri ShostakovichAs a composer active during Stalin’s regime, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) is inextricably linked with the political climate of the time. During the course of his career, he constantly walked a fine line between artistic freedom and the demands of the cultural police.

Shostakovich had reason to be nervous. A work’s reception meant much more than a good or bad review—it literally could mean life and death.

"It didn’t matter how the audience reacted to your work or if the critics liked it. All that had no meaning in the final analysis. There was only one question of life or death: how did the leader like your opus?"

Dmitri Shostakovich, excerpt from his autobiography Testimony

In spite of the constant undercurrent of strain running through his life, Shostakovich was reportedly a good-natured person—and the Festive Overture’s creation reflects this. The work sprang to life in fall 1954 at the request of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, which suddenly found itself in need of a new work to commemorate the October Revolution.

"It is just the most joyous romp that you can imagine. I love playing that piece."

Betsy Hudson Traba, principal flute with the Sarasota Orchestra

Learn more about the first Masterworks concert of the season, The Emperor, here. The concert takes place November 6 - 8 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

{adapted from Program Notes written by Jennifer Glagov}

George Nickson

George Nickson admits with a smile that he got in lots of trouble for tapping his pencils in elementary school. "I always wanted to play the drums. My parents insisted I play piano for at least five years, but all I wanted to do was dive right in. My dad made sure that piano was the basis of everything."

Now, the Principal Percussion with the Sarasota Orchestra since 2012, George says that foundation allows him great flexibility within the percussion family and as a musician.

Originally from Port St. Lucie, FL (just across the state), George grew up with the influence of two musical parents.

"I would always spend time with my dad at jazz drum gigs. I would sit behind the floor tom of his drum set when I was four or five years old just watching him and watching what that was like."

George says he loves playing Percussion because "you always get to be the star. You're always playing a solo part." Unlike the violin section of 16 musicians, or four horn players, "it's you alone. There's this moment when you feel that everything is coming together to one apex, and you have to deliver at that moment. It's very engaging."

Among sharing his love for modern and contemporary compositions, George also divulged the many failed garage rock bands he had in middle school and high school. "None of them were good. I have CDs of those performances and they're pretty bad."

Tonight, he'll be in the spotlight at Percussion Perfect, the third Chamber Soiree of the season.

"The music pushes the boundaries of what we're able to do with our instruments, and creates new textures and new ideas and propels the audience forward. It takes them a little out of their comfort zone, but gives them something they've never seen before."

We hope you'll join us at the Percussion Perfect concert at Holley Hall. You can buy your tickets here.

I am so excited to attend Quintets & Tuba tonight, as part of the Sarasota Orchestra's Chamber Soiree. The second piece features the Sarasota Wind Quintet in a gorgeous piece entitled Nielsen's Wind Quintet Op. 43

It was composed in Sweden in early 1922 by Carl Nielsen, a Danish musician, conductor and violinist, widely recognized as his country's greatest composer. In this work, Nielsen attempts to create characters of each instrument - one moment they are all "talking" at once, and the next, they are all quite alone. Interesting fact: it was played at Nielsen's funeral in 1931.

The final piece of Quintets & Tuba, and aptly so, is David Carlson's Concerto for Tuba featuring principal tuba Jay Hunsberger. Jay tells us that Carlson wrote the piece for him in 2014, and this will be the Sarasota premiere of the piece (although, Jay has played it a few times before). 

In an interview with Susan Rife from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Carlson said that many pieces written for the tuba are either "funny, avant-garde or stupid, just dumb... I wrote [this piece] in two weeks. I've never written anything big in two weeks. It was like manic composing. It was so enjoyable to compose it. I don't know why. Probably because I knew Jay would play it so well."

Jay gave us his take on the piece: "The first movement is quite melodic and lyrical, very romantic and musical. The second movement is a very lively and agile dance that will have all the musicians on stage on the tips of their toes as they play."

I'll be on the tips of my toes, as well! See you all there.

Sarasota Music Festival Tickets On Sale

Join us for our 2020 Festival where we celebrate Voices Unbound: Nine Centuries of Women in Music.


Written byHerald Tribune

 Literally gripping the arms of my seat, I was not the only one propelled on this rollercoaster of delightful music.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 Every section and soloist within the orchestra played their role with strength and beauty; every tree proud and tall. Tali served as an excellent guide leading the forces with assured confidence. The overall sound was lush and, yes, intense just where it needed to be.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 The Sarasota Orchestra was brimming with bubbling energy...  

Written byHerald Tribune

 A lifetime of musical moments, cinematic in scope, gave every section of the orchestra a leading role at one time or another. Chief among them was the virtuosic solo of concertmaster Daniel Jordan.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 It was a thrill ride resulting in an explosion of audience enthusiasm.  

Written byThe Observer

 Andrew Lane, the Orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, knows how to program a winning event and this concert had something for everyone. It also brought in a whole new audience that seemed dazzled by the performances.  

Written byThe Observer

 The Sarasota Orchestra played a program this past weekend filled with so much color, it was like visiting the Louvre.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 The performance... was exceptional, bringing new and stunning sonorities from a larger than usual Sarasota Orchestra under the dynamic leadership of Anu Tali.  

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