Sarasota Orchestra Concert Features Music Director Bramwell Tovey
The Sarasota Orchestra opened a new chapter in its history Saturday night with the first official concert under the direction of its Music Director-designate Bramwell Tovey at the Sarasota Opera House.
The Grammy and Juno Award-winning conductor and composer is just the fifth musical director in the orchestra’s 72-year history, and you might feel a collective sense of gratitude and astonishment. while all the orchestral musicians have shown that they had not just survived the pandemic but made a comeback.
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Orchestra management and donors have worked wonders in keeping musicians employed and creatively productive over the past 18 months and in making this concert possible.
Speaking to the audience, Tovey revealed a gentle, self-deprecating sense of humor and openness that initiated what we can hope to be a more intimate relationship with the community. We learned that his choices for this concert came out of a sense of connection and admiration for Sarasota.
The Tovey era began with an invigorating interpretation of Verdi’s Overture from “La forza del destino” where every note and every gesture seemed to shine with clarity. It was a wise choice at the Sarasota Opera House, where is billed as the American home of Verdi. Tovey has a spare touch, nothing too dramatic on the baton, but the results have covered the full range of emotions and dynamics of opera.
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James Ehnes, the 2021 Gramophone Artist of the Year and Sarasota resident, was just 12 when Tovey first met him in Winnipeg, Canada. Since then they have performed together all over the world, and it was a fitting gift to bring them together for us. Tovey and the musicians of the orchestra provided the perfect accompaniment to the most virtuoso and deeply musical violinist of our time.
The Introduction by Camille Saint-Saen and the Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28, and Zigeunerweisen, op. 20 showcased the technical magic and intense musical depth that Ehnes so casually delivers. Too often we become oblivious to the flash and the soloists miss the meaningful moments in the whirlwind of notes. This is not the case with Ehnes. I felt my heart squeeze with the beauty as much as she rushed in with excitement. We didn’t need to know the wild technical demands and the gnarly left hand pizzicatos, it was just mind blowing.
For those of us who rejoiced when the orchestra produced a digital performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A major, Op 92 in May 2020, Saturday’s live performance was a welcome echo.
It was the Sarasota orchestra that we had come to expect in recent years. There was a technical varnish and a well-articulated musicality. And of course, this particular symphony happily expresses optimism and warmth with a dash of dizzying anticipation.
Could Tovey be the one who built a world-class orchestra in Sarasota, just like George Szell did for Cleveland 70 years ago? This does not develop overnight or without additional support from the community. But the musicians’ buzz is that he’s the real deal and, as this Seventh Symphony expresses, there is great hope for their future.
Tovey’s open and cordial manner during a post-concert Q&A suggests he may be able to dispel the perceived aura of arrogance that has hampered the orchestra’s efforts to find ground for a new room. He was instrumental in building a concert hall in Vancouver where he is the director emeritus of the symphony. We can only hope he can start over here.
Read more music reviews and stories from Gayle Williams.