After hitting the pandemic pause button, like so many bastions of Sarasota’s performing arts scene, the Sarasota Music Festival (SMF) will look and feel markedly different in its comeback this June. What hasn’t changed? An irrepressible spirit of joy that promises to infuse the reimagined festival with its signature whirlwind of energy.
“We felt fiercely determined to keep the spark of the festival alive and well throughout difficult circumstances,” says Jeffrey Kahane, the festival’s Music Director since 2017. “This coming June, we intend to present a scaled-down, live festival that embodies all the musical values SMF has always stood for: musical integrity of the highest order, allied with a consuming passion for communicating the magnificence of the chamber music repertoire.”
From June 12 to 19, Holley Hall will vibrate with said passion in five events featuring SMF faculty artists and distinguished former fellows. The festival opens with Voices of the Violin, as Angelo Xiang Yu demonstrates the full expressive range of his instrument in collaboration with pianist Feng Niu. The recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, Yu became an instant SMF audience favorite when he joined the SMF faculty in 2018.
The beloved tradition of the Festival Lecture continues on June 13, with Kahane stepping into his specialty role of professor-at-the-piano. The Romantic Revolution takes a wide-ranging view of the birth of Romanticism and the connections between its pivotal composers, with a special focus on the creative partnership and deep friendship shared by Johannes Brahms and musical “power couple” Robert and Clara Schumann. Kahane will then join forces with longtime SMF faculty artist and Montrose Trio cellist Clive Greensmith to present a majestic program of Brahms' cello sonatas on June 16.
In addition to its concert experiences, SMF is world-renowned for its academy aspect, which convenes 100 master educators and preprofessional musicians for intensive musical study each summer. Safety considerations and travel restrictions have curbed that element of the festival this year, but the festival’s final concerts showcase the caliber of rising stars annually drawn to the festival’s incubator for artistic growth and musical development.
On June 18, pianist Angie Zhang, a standout talent of SMF 2018, returns to Sarasota for a recital of works by Clara Schumann, Chopin, and Caroline Shaw.
“I’m really excited to share the Clara Schumann because it’s an underplayed work, but it’s so beautiful,” Zhang says, adding that the Chopin holds “one of my favorite last movements ever in a sonata.”
The 2021 festival closes with a performance by the Calidore String Quartet. Formed in 2010 at the Colburn School of Music, the Calidore String Quartet first made international headlines in winning the $100,000 Grand Prize of the 2016 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition. The quartet was the first North American ensemble to win a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and become a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. Violinist Ryan Meehan and violist Jeremy Berry are both SMF alumni. For the festival finale, Kahane will join the quartet at the keyboard for Schumann’s exuberant Piano Quintet, then Calidore will take on Mendelssohn’s last major work, the String Quartet No. 6, a fierce tour de force for the ensemble.
“Each of these programs represents a different facet of the jewel that is the Sarasota Music Festival,” Kahane says of this year’s potently distilled format. Check Sarasota Orchestra’s website for opportunities to register for a limited number of tickets for the live experiences. And for the first time in SMF history, a Festival Streaming Pass will allow patrons to enjoy all five events at home. Offered as a single subscription with a purchase price of $40, streaming access for the festival will be available for 30 days beginning June 24. Festival Streaming Passes are on sale now on Sarasota Orchestra’s website: SarasotaOrchestra.org/Festival.