When Grammy Award-winning conductor Bramwell Tovey walks out onstage for the first of three Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks performances at the Van Wezel in April, he will usher in a new era in the history of Florida’s oldest professional orchestra. As only the sixth Music Director in the Orchestra’s 73-year history, he takes the helm of one of the finest regional orchestras in the country. He will also be entering a new phase in his own life and career, having most recently spent 18 years as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
While Sarasota’s warm breezes and swaying palms may be welcome new additions to his lifestyle, the job of leading an orchestra and serving a community through music has been his life’s work. In addition to his tenure in Vancouver, the British-born Tovey continues to serve as Principal Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec. In great demand as a guest conductor of the world’s finest orchestras, Tovey’s arrival in Sarasota marks a new milestone in the artistic growth of the ensemble and is a testament to the quality of music-making that Sarasota audiences enjoy.
The program, with performances on April 1, 2 and 3, features guest violinist Angelo Xiang Yu in Felix Mendelssohn’s iconic Violin Concerto. Yu is no stranger to Sarasota, having performed at the Sarasota Music Festival during multiple summers. The Mendelssohn concerto is musical comfort food, its familiar melodies feeling like old friends come to visit, and should be stunning in Yu’s hands. Opening the program will be the Ballade for Orchestra by the 19th century Black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. With the talent to rise above the racial bias and discrimination suffered by any person of color in 19th-century England, Coleridge-Taylor’s dramatic and lyrical music got the attention of composer Edward Elgar, who became his champion. The Ballade for Orchestra is a gorgeous work, only now being “rediscovered” by modern orchestras.
The second half of the program features two orchestral showpieces, Richard Strauss’ cheeky tone poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, followed by Maurice Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2. Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel is a lighthearted and brilliantly crafted tone poem based on the Tales of Till Eulenspiegel, a book first published in the early 1500s. It purports to tell true stories of an actual jokester who lived in the 1300s and roamed Europe, creating havoc wherever he went with endless pranks played on victims ranging from average townspeople to the Pope. Strauss’ orchestration is absolutely brilliant and the work has been a favorite with audiences for 125 years.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more electrifying concert closer than Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2. Originally written as ballet music for a production by Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, the work is based on Greek mythology and utilizes the largest orchestra for which Ravel ever composed. From the luminous orchestration of this opening, among the most extraordinary depictions of daybreak ever created, to the wild bacchanal at the conclusion, with every section of the orchestra pushed to its limit, the work is quite simply one of the most dazzling masterpieces ever composed.
The weekend of April 1-3 promises some first-class music making and a fitting celebration as Sarasota Orchestra and Bramwell Tovey embark together on their fantastic new adventure.
To learn more and purchase tickets to Masterworks: Breaking Boundaries, visit Sarasota Orchestra’s website or call the Box Office at 941-953-3434. All programs and featured artists are subject to change.