Arts Capital - June 2010

By Charlie Huisking June 1, 2010


Last fall, the Sarasota Orchestra announced it was putting the Sarasota Music Festival on hiatus in 2010 because of budget and attendance concerns. But Robert Levin, the festival’s artistic director, asked the faculty members to keep June open just in case.

Now the festival is about to open after all, thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Kaiserman Foundation. And nearly three dozen familiar faculty artists, including pianist Susan Starr, violinist James Buswell and violist Robert Vernon, will be back to teach and perform .

"They all penciled us in, which is a testament to their loyalty," says Levin, a pianist and Harvard-based Mozart scholar.

Festival patrons love it, too. When it initially appeared that the event wouldn’t occur this summer, supporters wrote passionate letters bemoaning even the temporary loss of a revered cultural institution.

But some festival observers feel that Levin, a faculty artist for 25 years before becoming artistic director in 2007, has been too loyal to some returning veterans. They wish he would bring in more new faces and shake things up. They say the event has become stale, and that’s one reason attendance has dropped 45 percent since 1997.

However, Levin describes the faculty, which includes renowned soloists and principal players from major U.S. orchestras, as "the best of the best." "Paul Wolfe [the festival’s long-time artistic director] created a wonderful model here that still works," Levin says. "The faculty is topnotch, and that’s why the best music students from the United States and abroad want to come here."

Besides, Levin says, the festival is constantly refreshing itself. This year, violinist Alexander Kerr, the former concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, will make his first appearance. Another newcomer, Larry Rachleff, praised by the Chicago Tribune as "a take-charge maestro who invests everything he conducts with deep musical understanding," will share conducting duties with Joseph Silverstein.

And while the programs for the nine festival concerts (which run from June 3-19) feature many frequently performed favorites, 19 pieces have never been played at the festival in its 46-year-history. "We’re not standing pat," Levin says. "We’re always looking for ways to improve."

This year, festival students will get more time in the spotlight during the Friday night concerts at the Sarasota Opera House (they’ll also perform three concerts of their own at Holley Hall). And for the first time, the Sarasota Orchestra will perform with festival students in a Van Wezel concert that will include Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring pianist Starr.

The orchestra’s management has created a committee of board members and musicians to evaluate the festival’s future. They’ll surely be addressing the attendance dropoff, which could simply reflect the diminishing audience for classical music nationwide.

Yet attendance at another Sarasota classical festival, La Musica, increased steadily for the past decade before dropping during the recession. Of course, that festival is in April, when Sarasota is full of tourists and winter visitors. La Musica executive director Sally Faron says she tries to build audiences by offering two-for-one tickets to first-time concert-goers.

The Kaiserman Foundation doesn’t plan on making another $250,000 grant to the Sarasota Music Festival next year. But Levin says he’s working to raise a "substantial" endowment for the event. Because the festival has a national and even international reputation, Levin plans to draw on supporters far beyond the Sarasota area, so as not to squeeze the orchestra’s local donors. "I have high hopes that the festival will not only survive but truly prosper in the future," Levin says.

For concert schedules and tickets, call 953-3434, or visit

Mr. Lobo Goes to Washington

President Obama has nominated Sarasota’s Dick Lobo to become director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees the Voice of America and the Cuba-oriented Radio and TV Marti.

"I’m excited to be of service, and I’m honored to have been asked," says Lobo, who, along with his wife, Caren, campaigned vigorously for Obama in 2008. Lobo will begin his assignment once his appointment is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

During his eight-year tenure as president and CEO of Tampa public television WEDU, Lobo supervised a capital campaign to fund WEDU’s conversion from analog to digital broadcasting and established the station’s first endowment fund. He also pushed for more local programming, including the award-winning Gulf Coast Journal, which is hosted by Sarasota’s Jack Perkins.

Lobo came to WEDU after a long career in commercial broadcasting. He held top-level jobs at NBC stations in Miami, Chicago, New York and Cleveland. He announced his retirement from WEDU in September, but continued to serve while a search was conducted for his successor, Susan Howarth. "I’m proud to be leaving the station in good shape," Lobo says.

Ticket Frenzy for Ringling Festival

It’s common knowledge in the arts com-munity that fewer people are buying season subscriptions these days. They like to keep their options open and buy single tickets days before a performance.

That’s why the frenzy in the lobby after the announcement of the Ringling International Arts Festival schedule was so amazing. People were filling out ticket brochures and racing to hand them to box office personnel. At press time, nearly 40 percent of all tickets for the October festival were sold. Some performances are already completely sold out. "We’re particularly pleased to be getting a lot of repeat business from people in the area who attended last year," says Dwight Currie, the Ringling Museum’s associate director of programming.

I think it’s great that local residents have embraced the festival. True, the festival received tourist-tax funding by promoting itself as a draw for visitors who otherwise might not come to Sarasota. But it may turn out that the local excitement is so great that tourists will play a negligible role in its success.

Ballet Steps into the Black

The Sarasota Ballet concluded a thrilling season in April with the great news that, after running up a sizeable deficit last year, the organization expects to finish in the black this year. Many credit new executive director Michael Shelton with getting the ballet in good financial shape. In a pre-curtain speech, he and artistic director Iain Webb said that though the budget was trimmed dramatically, the artistic product wasn’t compromised.

Every performance I saw was indeed first-rate. But I hope the ballet can afford to buy some new recorded music next year. At the same performance where Webb and Shelton spoke, the recording of Gilbert and Sullivan music for Pineapple Poll hissed and crackled. At two terrifying moments, it skipped. But the dancers adjusted, proving to be as nimble as their management.



Our top tickets of the month, Twitter-style, in 140 characters or less.


Sarasota Music Festival,

thru June 19

String fever! Top musicians, composers, students; 8 concerts + more, at Holley Hall, Opera House, Van Wezel. 953-3434,

Celebrity Sports Night,

June 11

Get tkts now 4 chance to C big sports names, benefit Bradenton’s 13th Avenue Community Center. 6:30 p.m. Hyatt Regency Sarasota; $125. 741-7153

The Drowsy Chaperone,

June 3-27

Tony winner, GR8 songs & characters, nostalgia; 1st time in SRQ. Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, 366-5454,

Savor Sarasota,

June 1-14

Yum! 20+ restaurants, multi-course meals 4 just $15 PP lunch, $25 dinner 4 2 whole wks. Save $$, njoy best bites. OMW. 4 deets, (800) 522-9799,

American Association of Community Theatres Festival 2010, June 22-27

OMG, plays galore=comedy, tragedy, music, puppets! PPL from Spain, Denmark, Poland, Israel, Italy. + wkshops, PRTs. 488-1115,


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