Musical Musings

Nikolai Zverev & Students
Zverev (center) and the students he housed, from left to right, Samuelson, Scriabin, Maximov, Rachmaninoff, Chernyaev, Keneman, and Pressman.

Like Mentor, Like Pupil

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.

Meet Lena Cambis

Meet Carlann Evans

Don't Miss Guest Conductor Perry So

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

Meet 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's "Emperor" Piano Concerto

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}

Meet Betsy Hudson Traba

Shostakovich's Festive Overture

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}

Movie Music: Behind the Scenes

Meet Brad Williams

Jay Hunsberger
Jay Hunsberger

Q&A with 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.

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Annual Fund

Gifts to the Annual Fund ensure that Sarasota Orchestra can continue to share the gift of music with our community through concerts, education and outreach programs. Please join us by making a donation today. Together, we can keep the music playing, now and always.

Don't Miss These
Special Events

Join us to celebrate our 75th Anniversary at these exciting events.

Masterworks Dinners
Six Dinners throughout the season

Orchestra Brunch
Sunday, November 12, 2023

75th Anniversary Concert and Gala
Thursday, February 15, 2024


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