By Lawrence Budmen

On the Gulf Coast of Florida, the city of Sarasota is home to a world class music festival. Here distinguished artists gather each summer to play chamber music. Talented students from around the world take part in master classes and performances. The quality of their playing proved that they were students in name only. I found the event to be a musically invigorating experience.

At a faculty showcase concert on June 19, 2003 the intimate Holley Hall was a perfect venue for chamber music with bright, clear acoustics. Flutist Carol Wincenc, a true virtuoso of the instrument, violinist William Preucil, concertmaster of the great Cleveland Orchestra, and violist Robert Vernon gave an effervescent performance of Beethoven's "Serenade in D Major." This work is early Beethoven. The music abounds in graceful melodies and lovely instrumental writing. Ms. Wincenc also played 6 excerpts from "Valentines" - short pieces written for her by composers with whom she has had a long association. Standouts were an elegant, French tinged waltz by Hollywood's Arnold Black and two pieces by the innovative Paul Schoenfield -a haunting, plaintive melody and a foot stomping folk dance. Ms. Wincenc's tonal purity and intensity of utterance were mesmerizing. Cellist Ronald Leonard (who holds the Gregor Piatigorsky Chair at the University of Southern California) gave an impassioned reading of the surprisingly romantic 1940's "Sonata" by Gyorgy Ligeti.

At a student concert on June 20, clarinetist Michael Kertcher gave a piquant performance of Bartok's "Contrasts." Four eager young players gave a lyrical, gracious rendering of the first movement of Beethoven's "String Quartet," Op.59, No.1. Paul Kim, a brilliant young violinist, led a dazzling performance of the Poco Allegro movement of the "Sextet in G Major," Op.36 by Brahms. A sparkling reading of Beethoven's "Septet in E-flat," Op.20 sent the audience home in high spirits.

On June 20 the scene shifted to the warm ambience of the Sarasota Opera House, a 19th century style palace. Ann Hobson Pilot, principal harpist of the Boston Symphony, played exquisitely in Ravel's dreamy "Introduction and Allegro." Her gleaming tone, fluent virtuosity, and musicality were the essence of instrumental mastery. A group of students joined Ms. Pilot for a gorgeous reading of Debussy's "Sonata No.2 for Flute, Viola, and Harp" - impressionistic music played with flair and elegance by a great artist. Pianist Susan Starr, a Tchaikovsky Competition winner, joined Preucil, Vernon, and Leonard for a truly magnificent performance of the "Piano Quartet in C Minor" by Brahms. In the eloquent, lyrical Andante, Preucil's beautiful tone blended with Leonard's rich, glowing cello sound in a manner that was truly sublime. Ms. Starr's sensitive, deeply probing pianism made the listener hang on every note of this Brahms masterpiece. Preucil, Vernon, and Leonard brought lively, incisive playing to Bach's "Sonata No.6," BWV 530. The rhythms were springy, the ensemble playing brilliant. To conclude the evening, a student contingent brought lively, sparkling playing to the delightful "Grand Nonette" by Louis Spohr.

On June 21 French horn virtuoso supreme David Jolley revealed a large, rounded tone and remarkable flexibility in Mozart's "Horn Concerto No.4," K.495, vigorously conducted by festival director Paul Wolfe. Clarinetist Charles Neidich (a faculty member of the Julliard School) gave an insouciant performance of the "Clarinet Concerto" by Jean Francaix, a 1968 score that abounds in light, bubbling melodies and Gallic charm. Neidich gave a sparkling performance of this irresistible music, tossing off the rapid fire acrobatics of the Allegrissimo with ease and showmanship. The student dominated festival orchestra matched Neidich in brilliance and Wolfe conducted with panache. Violinist James Buswell concluded the festival with an exhilarating performance of the "Scottish Fantasy" by Max Bruch. Buswell, a patrician artist, brought a bright, shining tone and virtuosity aplenty to Bruch's soaring phrases. His darkly burnished sound in the Andante sostenuto was all warmth and violinistic molten lava. He was given rousing support by conductor Wolfe and the orchestra. Throughout the three days of concerts, the performances and ambience radiated a truly festive sense of joy.

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