(June 1, 2, 3, 4, 2006)

By Lawrence Budmen

As the music season concludes in South Florida, an oasis of chamber music takes wing just a few hours away in Sarasota. 

The Sarasota Music Festival is celebrating its forty-second season. Both a performing and teaching event, the festival combines concerts by distinguished faculty members with master classes and coaching sessions for the student contingent. From over 500 applicants, 85 students are chosen for three weeks of tuition free instruction and performances. These young musicians have studied at such prestigious conservatories as Julliard, Curtis, and Eastman. 

The festival’s roots run deep into South Florida. Twelve Sarasota Festival alumni have joined the string section of Miami’s New World Symphony. Violinist-conductor Joseph Silverstein, former acting music director of the Florida Philharmonic and a New World guest conductor, has been an institution at the Sarasota festivities since 1986. The event’s artistic director designate Robert Levin will be soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the New World players in December. (Levin is a formidable keyboard artist, musicologist, Mozart scholar, and Harvard professor.) 

Two native South Floridians grace this summer’s student roster. Violist Sharon Tenhundfeld studied with Richard Fleischman at Miami’s New World School of the Arts. Tenhundfeld recently graduated from the New England Conservatory in Boston (where she studied with Carol Rodland). She heard about the Sarasota Festival from her cellist friends. “I always wanted to play chamber music. Here is a wonderful opportunity and the good Florida weather is a plus,” says Tenhundfeld. She is torn between teaching at a conservatory and playing full time. After pursuing her Master’s, Tenhundfeld intends to audition for the New World Symphony. 

Tenhundfeld is dedicated to bringing music back into the schools. At an African Heritage Cultural Center she taught strings. In two to three monthes twenty youngsters leaned how to play.

At a student concert Tenhundfeld shone impressively in a brilliant, edgy performance of Debussy’s String Quartet (with cellist and fellow Floridian Caroline Bean, an Eastman graduate) and an elegantly spun version of Mozart’s Trio in E-flat in which her warm viola tone seamlessly dovetailed the mellow clarinet sounds of Stanislav Golovin.

Daniel Adams, also a violist, hails from Boca Raton. With studies at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Cleveland Institute of Music already behind him, Adams intends to pursue courses in pediatric surgery at Columbia University and music at the Julliard School next fall. Adams regards chamber music as his true passion. He finds the Sarasota experience “busy, intense, and inspiring.” 

Silverstein returns to the Sarasota bash annually for the “cross pollination of students and faculty from around the globe. This comes just at the right time of year when we need vitamins to recharge our artistic batteries.” He finds his “fascination with music is even greater than forty years ago. I want to give the students a sense of my undying passion for music.” Silverstein finds the artistic level of young musicians in the U.S. today “the highest in the world.” 

Festival founder Paul Wolfe, who remains active as a violist and conductor, will wrap up his tenure as artistic director with this summer’s event. Still spry in his eightieth year, Wolfe exudes irrepressible enthusiasm. He finds “the aura and energy of student-faculty interaction sets up an ambience that is electric.” 

Indeed the artistic atmosphere is supercharged. Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F Minor received a performance that was bathed in white heated romanticism. The patrician artistry of pianist Claude Frank was backed by the powerhouse quartet of Silverstein and Ani Kavafian, violins, Barbara Westphal, viola, and Timothy Eddy, cello. 

Kavafian took the solo spotlight for a fiery, lyrically intense traversal of Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Minor that sang forth in burnished rubato and a rich array of instrumental coloration. The student orchestra (under Silverstein) had the precision and brilliance of the New World Symphony at its best. 

The Sarasota Festival is virtually the only place one can hear such rarities as Darius Milhaud’s irreverent, piquant Suite, Op.157b, played in superb Francaise style by pianist Levin, violinist Timothy Lees, and clarinetist Eli Eban (son of Israeli diplomat Abba Eban). Flutist Carol Wincenc reveled in the aerial acrobatics of Amilcare Ponchielli’s operatic Quintet for Winds and Piano.(Wincenc produced soaring tone and serenely eloquent phrasing in the Largo of Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in D Major, accompanied with supple elegance by Joy Cline Phinney on harpsichord.) Pianist Jean Schneider, who discovered this confection, offered supple, orchestral sonority. Kavafian unfurled her dark, auburn tone in Dvorak’s endlessly melodic Violin Sonatina in G Major with effervescent pianistic support by Jonathan Spivey.

Throughout the festival concerts, the sheer joy of fine musicians playing together was irresistible. Here was chamber music in its purest form. The Sarasota Festival is one of Florida’s artistic gems. 

Copyright Miami Herald

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