Angelo Xiang Yu

The 55th annual Sarasota Music Festival features its usual three weekends of chamber and orchestra concerts this month, June 6-9, 13-16, and 20-22, with faculty and students from around the world. But it begins with a special first-ever kickoff concert June 1 that brings together the talents of music director Jeffrey Kahane and Angelo Xiang Yu.

The opening night concert, at the Sarasota Orchestra’s Holley Hall, presents Kahane on piano and Yu on violin playing the only three sonatas Brahms  wrote for violin and piano, No. 1 in G Major, No. 2 in A Major (Meistersinger) and No. 3 in D Minor. 

As Kahane says, “I’ve performed  the three sonatas together three times before, and it has always been a delight for audiences. This will be the first time we are performing all three together at the festival; I think it’s a classical music bucket list opportunity.”

Kahane adds that each sonata “has its own completely distinctive personality, ranging from the serene and lyrical to the stormy and intensely dramatic. They are among the most satisfying works in the chamber repertoire both for the performers and for the audience, but they are extremely challenging to play, each in its own way.”

Fortunate, then, that Kahane has as his partner onstage Yu, who received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in March and who’s been praised by the Cincinnati Enquirer as “a seasoned soloist with a dazzling technique.” It also helps that the two musicians have played together several times before. “We found we had a deep musical bond from the very first time we met and played together just for fun at the New England Conservatory,” Kahane says.

Kahane admits that playing and conducting onstage as well as programming an entire festival can be daunting. “Sustaining my energy throughout is certainly challenging, but I draw a great deal of inspiration and energy just from being around such a tremendously gifted group of musicians, both the younger ones and the distinguished faculty,” he says.

After the opening night, the festival kicks into high gear with programs devoted to such themes as “Fairy Tales & Fantasy,” “Beethoven, Brahms and Bepop” and “Windfall,” and a special evening devoted to the music of Felix Mendelssohn’s lesser-known (but highly talented) sister Fanny. Among other composers on the schedule: Schumann, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert. Concerts take place at both Holley Hall and the Sarasota Opera House, welcoming such guest artists as the Montrose Trio, Pacifica Quartet and SMF alums Cassia Drake and Katherine Arndt. And former music director Robert Levin once more will offer his entertaining “Levin Lecture,” on June 22.

More info: 953-3434, sarasotaorchestra.org

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