By Lawrence Budmen

Several of Miami's musical luminaries were highly prominent in the recent Sarasota Music Festival. The concerts of June 20 to June 22, 2002 proved to be an exhilarating feast of music. 

First and foremost among the participating musicians was Joseph Silverstein, acting music director of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist supreme. Not only did he play in three consecutive concerts, but he also offered master classes, and was in the audience for the student performances. Silverstein's violin technique and deeply probing musical grasp remain astonishing. Now in his 70's, Silverstein still has the same dark, burnished total richness and perfect intonation. The pyrotechnical demands of Beethoven's "Sonata in G Major", Opus 96, were dispatched as if they were a piece of cake. More important was the serene lyricism he brought to the second movement Adagio expressivo and the charm and lilt in his rendering of the Scherzo: Allegro. His superb piano partner was Robert Levin, a brilliant virtuoso in his own right. Levin's pianistic brilliance and idiomatic affinity for Beethoven were striking. In a rousing performance of Franz Schubert's "Trio in B-Flat Major", Opus 99, Silverstein and Levin were joined by the splendid cellist Ronald Leonard, a University of Southern California faculty member. The exquisite phrasing of the beautiful Andante un Poco Mosso seemed to probe the depth of the composer's soul, while the Scherzo and Rondo: Allegro vivace finale were filled with dance-like vigor. The sense of ensemble among the three superb artists set a standard for chamber performances. At the closing night concert, Silverstein, Levin and Leonard returned for a magnificent performance of Antonin Dvorak's "Quintet in A Major", Opus 81 - partnered by Los Angeles Philharmonic Concertmaster Martin Chalifour and Cleveland Orchestra principal violist Robert Vernon, a frequent coach with Miami's New World Symphony. All of Dvorak's nationalistic fervor was clearly delineated in their superb rendering of this masterpiece. Never has the nostalgic longing and mystery of the second movement Dumka sounded so poignant. The rhythmic drive and feverish intensity of the Scherzo (Furiant) and Finale Allegro were overwhelming. This was great music making by master musicians, aided by the warm ambience of the Sarasota Opera House.

Pianist Susan Starr will be remembered by Miami's music audience as a founding member of the School of Music at Florida International University. It was a pleasure once again to encounter the crisp fluency and musicality of her playing. She took part in a lovely performance of Carl Maria Von Weber's "Trio in G Minor", Opus 63 - a charming romantic period piece, in which she was joined by sweet toned flutist Carol Wincenc and cellist Ronald Thomas, director of the Boston Chamber Music Society. With Thomas and violinist Chalifour, Starr was featured in a delightful performance of Beethoven's "Trio in E-Flat Major", Opus 1, No. 1. The perfect blend of the three artists was tonic to jaded ears and the entire performance (particularly the Scherzo and Finale) had a Rossinian verve and brio.

Flutist Wincenc, who was a soloist in the New World Symphony's recording of Paul Schoenfield's klezmer flavored music, acted as the leader in two rarely heard, large scale works for wind ensemble. Charles Gounod's "Petite Symphonie in E Flat Major" is filled with lovely melodies and colorful ensemble writing. Gounod has long been an underrated composer. The 1948 "Partita" for woodwind quintet by mid 20th century New England composer Irving Fine is a pleasantly conservative, neo-Baroque divertissement with a surprisingly dissonant ending. Wincenc, a consummate musician, was joined in both scores by the English Chamber Orchestra's principal oboe Neil Black, the Cincinnati Symphony's principal clarinetist Richard Hawley, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's principal bassoon Frank Morelli, and horn virtuoso David Jolley, plus excellent wind students in the Gounod piece. These players are all wonderful. They formed an expressive, rich toned ensemble that did full justice to both scores.

French horn soloist David Jolley proved to be a paragon on his difficult instrument in Daniel Schnyder's "Sonata". This music requires every bit of pyrotechnical virtuosity the soloist can muster. Schnyder also wants the horn player to caress a long lyrical line. The score's jazzy, whimsical idiom recalls the music of Morton Gould. Only the best brass players need apply. Jolley clearly is one of the best and gave a dazzling performance, ably accompanied by pianist Michael Adcock. 

Among many fine student performances, standouts were a wind quintet group in Paco D'Rivera's charming latin flavored "Aires Tropicales" and a rare opportunity to hear Grieg's "String Quartet in G Minor", Opus 27, played with intense fervor by violinist Zhan Shu and Karen Sinclair, violist Meng Wang, and cellist Kee-Hyun Kim - definitely stars of tomorrow. A superb festival indeed!

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