Musical Musings

The Sarasota Orchestra Blog

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.

This Thursday, the Sarasota Orchestra will be hosting its second Chamber Soiree of the season entitled Quintets & Tuba. I love that the winds and brass get to take center stage. It doesn't seem fair that they normally have sit in the back of the orchestra, does it?

The first piece is Jan Bach's lively Rounds and Dances. It was commissioned in the summer of 1980, so is just a little older than me! I'm looking forward to experiencing the Sarasota Brass Quintet performing it.

It's a suite of five short movements: the first and fourth movements are canonic in nature. (I looked it up. That means the music is reduced to the simplest form possible.) The first movement, Fanfare, is exciting and assertive, while Idyl is quiet and introspective.

The remaining movements are homophonic in texture. (Yep, had to look that up too. Homophonic texture means there is one melody.) The parts of the piece are dance forms of Europe and South America, and will have you tapping your toes.

Jay Hunsberger

Jay Hunsberger, principal tuba with the Sarasota Orchestra for the past 27 years, didn't always know he wanted to be a musician. "I wanted to be an oceanographer first, then I thought I was going to be a professional swimmer, but then I wised up... I decided in about the eight- or ninth-grade that being a musician was what I wanted to do."

What made him decide to do that? Jay laughs and says with a smile, "Probably because I wasn't smart enough to do anything else."

I beg to differ. As principal clarinet Bharat Chandra so aptly put, Jay is one of the greatest leaders and musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra, as well as an extraordinary member of our community. Bharat said, "I don't know a single person who's not proud of and in admiration of Jay Hunsberger." I couldn't agree more. He's humble about his extensive and impressive career, and never fails to make everyone in the room smile.

In addition to his many proud moments as a renowned tuba player, Jay feels it's his mission to change the public perception of the largest and lowest member of the brass family. "I love the tuba because it's misunderstood. I think people assume it's one thing, and in my opinion, it's quite a beautiful, melodic and a very versatile instrument. Great composers over the course of history have recognized that and written some great music for the tuba."

This Thursday, you'll get to hear him play David Carlson's Concerto for Tuba, supported by many other members of the Sarasota Orchestra: Daniel Jordan, violin; Anne Bobilin, violin; Laura Jensen-Jennings, violin; Margot Zarzycka, violin; Matthew Pegis, viola; Michael McClelland, viola; Jake Muzzy, cello; Chizuko Matsusaka, cello; John Miller, bass; and Cheryl Losey, harp.

"I'm so blessed to have, really, the greatest colleagues in the world," says Jay.

Join us at Quintets & Tuba this Thursday, October 1 at Holley Hall. More info here.


Joshua Horne may be a self-proclaimed nerd, but you wouldn't know that just by looking at him. When I first met him, all I could think was, "Wow! This guy is so nice!" His soft-spoken nature and surge of enthusiasm for the Sarasota Orchestra was endearing.

Joshua grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and dreamed of playing the drums. But, he eventually chose the French Horn because his father also played it. And the rest, as they say, is history. After attending the University of Texas where he studied horn performance under Patrick Hughes, he went on to Rice University in Houston, TX under the tutelage of William VerMeulen.

Joshua said, "Without him, I can't honestly say I'd be here. He really pushed me. And when I won this job, he was the first person I called."

Now in his second year with the organization, he says he couldn't be more blessed and he absolutely loves it!

When he's not rehearsing or performing, Joshua loves the art of story-telling and spends a lot of time listening to podcasts. Joshua has also been taking in all the culinary treats of Sarasota. His list of favorites includes JDubs Brewing Company, Mandeville Beer Garden and Station 400. He especially enjoys playing cornhole (bean bag toss) in the airy backyard space at JDubs.

I'm looking forward to hearing Joshua play in many of the upcoming Chamber Soiree concerts and Masterworks this season.

Anu Tali, Music Director

Are you looking for a behind-the-scenes journey of the Sarasota Orchestra? Do you want to get to know our musicians? How about an in-depth look at our seasonal offerings? Then, you've come to the right place!

Welcome to Musical Musings, the Sarasota Orchestra's brand new blog.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Orchestra for years and can't wait to share my exploration of this wonderful arts organization and the amazing work it does in our community.

From its musicians and staff, to its concerts and education programs, there is so much going on at the Sarasota Orchestra. You’d be surprised! (I know I was.)

I hope you'll join me on this journey as I offer insights and information, mixed in with some fun and humor. Musical Musings will be a unique blog of musical discovery. Please also join me on Facebook and Twitter and socialize with us.

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 There's no doubt, audiences are thrilled by the Sarasota Orchestra's new music director, Anu Tali. She's brought an intense energy from the orchestra in previous performances and we found this yet again in a downright thrill ride of an encounter...  

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