An Emotional Farewell to Conductor Leif Bjaland

By Megan McDonald February 21, 2012

An Emotional Farewell to Conductor Bjaland


Leif Bjaland

I’ve been covering the arts in Sarasota for more than 35 years,  and I’ve never experienced a more emotional event than Leif Bjaland’s final concert with the Sarasota Orchestra.

Bjaland received the first of many standing ovations from the capacity audience at Van Wezel on Sunday when he took the podium to conduct the concert’s opening piece, the prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger.

But the applause really became thunderous, and audience members began wiping away tears, when concertmaster Daniel Jordan gave a moving, heartfelt tribute to Bjaland near the concert’s end. He praised him not only for his artistry but for his humanity, describing him as not only a great boss, but a great friend to all the musicians.  He said he hoped Bjaland would return one day as a guest conductor, a suggestion that produced another roar from the audience.

A clearly touched Bjaland then took the microphone–reluctantly, he said, for he worried that he couldn’t keep his emotions in check. But in his typically eloquent style, Bjaland thanked the musicians and the audience, then took the podium for the final time to conduct Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

After the final note, audience members leapt to their feet again, and demanded numerous curtain calls. In the final one, Bjaland turned toward the orchestra, made a deep bow, and with a final wave to the audience, he was gone.

I was honored to attend a post-concert party for Bjaland, along with many of Sarasota’s artistic directors,  including  Sarasota Opera’s Victor DeRenzi,  Sarasota Ballet’s Iain Webb and Key Chorale’s Joseph Caulkins. Bjaland said he was  grateful to have worked  in a community with such accomplished, creative leaders. They in turn told me they’d all been inspired by Bjaland’s vision and his collaborative nature.

We may never know the exact reasons that caused the orchestra management and Bjaland to part ways. Bjaland, who doesn’t have a new job lined up yet, hasn’t commented about why he’s leaving. The most-rumored scenario is that Bjaland fell out of favor with the board,  which felt he’d  become too close to the musicians during labor negotiations a few years ago.

I wonder if board members had any second thoughts as they observed the outpouring of affection for  Bjaland from the entire community.  I hope they realize how lucky all of us were to have had him in our midst for the last 15 years.

Turner Exhibit Opens at Ringling’s Selby Gallery

An unusual exhibit of the works of  British artist William Turner opens this week at the Ringling College of Art and Design’s Selby Gallery.  And if an art collector’s dream comes true, the works might one day be on permanent display in their own Sarasota museum.

The exhibit, running from Feb. 24 through March 28, features pre-publication proofs and folios from the collection of  Sarasota resident Douglass Montrose-Graem.  The works “reveal a unique insight into how a genius develops the initial sketch into a finished product–the published engraving,” Montrose-Graem said.

Turner (1775-1851) is one of England’s most renowned and innovative artists, and is considered a forerunner of Impressionism and abstract art.  Extremely prolific, he produced nearly 20,000 watercolors, oil paintings and etchings. His favorite subjects included dramatic storms and awe-inspiring landscapes.

Montrose-Graem’s collection includes nearly 1,500 of Turner’s works on paper and a Turner oil sketch. He says it is the largest Turner collection outside of England.

Montrose-Graem once operated a  Turner museum in Denver, and he hopes to resurrect it in Sarasota.  The non-profit museum he envisions would be constructed in an urban complex that would also encompass shops and restaurants. He says the museum would  “appeal to the five senses,” and would be a site where Sarasota performing arts groups could present programs.

Though Montrose-Graem says he has several potential  investors lined up, “we need someone to step up and make the first commitment,” he said.


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