I have always loved early November in Sarasota. The weather is finally beginning to cool, the holidays are in sight, and Sarasota Orchestra opens its Masterworks season at the Van Wezel.

Sarasota Orchestra Principal Flutist Betsy Hudson Traba

Our Masterworks series holds a special place in the hearts of our musicians. Masterworks concerts give us the opportunity to gather the largest orchestra, sometimes as many as 100 players, to perform not only treasured classics from past centuries, but also exciting new works that are being produced by today’s most gifted composers.

Sarasota Orchestra is now counted among the finest regional orchestras in the country, and as such, we have the ability to bring some of the world’s most celebrated artists to town as soloists and guest conductors. Inevitably, they leave here enamored with our beautiful city and impressed with the extraordinary quality of its artistic offerings.

While the air is always electric on opening weekend, this year brings an even greater sense of excitement and gratitude, as our musicians will be gathering in full for the first time in over 18 months. With performances November 5–7 at the Van Wezel, this year’s Masterworks 1 program, titled Portraits in Sound, features guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger on the podium and soloist Blake Pouliot performing Tchaikovsky’s beloved Violin Concerto.

The program also includes the orchestral showpiece Pictures at an Exhibition by the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. Originally composed as a suite for piano, the great Maurice Ravel brilliantly orchestrated the work, utilizing a large orchestra and featuring extended solos for unusual instruments such as the saxophone and tuba.

The music is meant to depict a visitor walking through an art exhibition, stopping in front of each new picture to examine it. The 10 miniature movements musically depict chickens, gardens, castles, gnomes, and various other scenes with humor and pathos, with every section within the orchestra given the chance to step forward and shine. The final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev,” is among the most majestic moments in all of classical music, with pealing bells and rich brass evoking the magnificent entrance to the imperial city. There is a dignity and grandeur to this music that is unforgettable, and highly appropriate, as we all celebrate the joyous sounds of a full symphony orchestra ringing out once again in Sarasota.

Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger

The musicians are looking forward to working with Maestro Lehninger again. He conducted our orchestra for the first time in the fall of 2019, and we thoroughly enjoyed that pre-pandemic week together. Young and energetic, Brazilian-born Lehninger is in demand worldwide and has performed with orchestras throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, as well as with major American orchestras, including the Boston Symphony where he served as associate conductor for five years.

November’s program begins with the Festive Overture by 20th-century Brazilian composer Mozart Camargo Guarnieri. The piece is a muscular, eight-minute workout for the orchestra, characterized by jagged rhythms and a relentless energy.

Violin soloist Blake Pouliot

As I mentioned, Canadian superstar violinist Blake Pouliot will be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s venerable Violin Concerto, one of the most iconic works in the repertoire. This is music steeped in tradition, having been played by every virtuoso violinist of the past 150 years. It is full of the glorious melodies and arresting drama that pervade all of Tchaikovsky’s music, with the added demand that the soloist perform the kind of virtuoso technical feats that make you wonder how they are still standing at the end. At 27 years old, Pouliot will undoubtedly be up to the challenge, having been heralded by the Toronto Star as “one of those special talents that comes along once in a lifetime.”

Portraits in Sound promises to be an awe-inspiring way to spend a couple of hours. Powerful, timeless music performed by artists in the prime of their lives. (This is not your grandfather’s orchestra.) As the pandemic caused us all to rethink our priorities, what better way to feed your spirit than by listening to a great American orchestra playing music designed to sweep you away—all available right here in our sunny corner of paradise. I hope you’ll join us!

Explore our full season at sarasotaorchestra.org.

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