Arts on the Horizon: January

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By Rodger Skidmore

The holidays continue

What makes holidays special besides tasty food and presents? How about friends and music – especially in combination?

One special holiday still to come is Carnival, specifically the Brazilian version. The Sarasota Orchestra is presenting Clarice Assad’s Bonecos de Olinda on Jan. 5-7 at the Van Wezel and Neel auditoriums on the Masterworks program, Friends and Inspirations

Olinda, a city in northeastern Brazil, famous for its sugar cane and, apparently, its bosecos (sugar cane sweet dolls – the bohemian kind) that kick up their heels during those festive days. Side note: Olinda is a UNESCO heritage site and the closest point of land in South America to Africa. If continental drift could be reversed, it would nestle right into the coast between Nigeria and Cameroon.

Miguel Harth-Bedoya will also be conducting Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, featuring Sir Stephen Hough, piano. Topping off the event will be Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme.

At month’s end, Jan. 26-28, the Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks Titans presentation at the Van Wezel starts with Giancarlo Guerrero conducting Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. This piece is followed by, or more accurately blends into, Kevin Puts’ Marimba Concerto. Puts loves Mozart’s piano concertos and composed this one with an instrumentation similar to what Mozart used, simply substituting a marimba for the piano. Ji Su Jung, the first solo percussionist to receive the Avery Fisher Career Grant, will be striking, not the keys, but the tone bars.

To make sure everyone is awake for their drive home after the concert, it will end with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (Titan).

Sandwiched in between these Masterworks presentations will be, By Special Arrangement, a Great Escapes concert series offering at Holley Hall on Jan. 10-14. Just as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” morphed into the opening bars of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” so too have many other piano compositions been arranged to become full orchestral pieces. Christopher Confessore will be conducting arrangements of piano pieces that became great theater and film sensations.

A few days later, Evan Raider, conductor for the national tour of Wicked, will be leading some Broadway Showstoppers in the orchestra’s pop series at the Van Wezel on Jan. 19-20. These Broadway songs will be sung by Broadway stars Ali Ewoldt, Teri Hanson, and Sean MacLaughlin, with selections from Mamma Mia!, Rent, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Wicked, and many other shows.

On the 21st the full orchestra slims down to a fabulous foursome when Jennifer Best Takeda. violin; Christopher Schnell, cello; Jonathan Spivey, piano; and Matthew Pigis viola; perform at Holley Hall. The musical menu includes Florence Price’s String Quartet, a bluesy, folk-spiritual work, and Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet, which he wrote for his wife Clara.

Bleeding into the next month, Jan. 31 through Feb. 4, is some Revolutionary Music at Holley Hall. Not a shoot-‘em-up revolution, but more of a change-everything musical revolution, as in the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or the shower scene from Psycho. Lawrence Loh leads the Orchestra in a tribute to “revolutionary” music including compositions by Verdi, the Beatles, and film music by John Williams.

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Hop, skip and jump

Ricardo Graziano has been supplying the Sarasota Ballet with his award-winning, audience approved works as its resident choreographer for 10 years. In this season’s fourth program, Graziano Celebrated, the Sarasota Ballet gives us all a chance to celebrate by asking the ballet corps, principles, and soloists to slide, leap, and rotate for our enjoyment. 

Musically, a sonata is a structure with an exposition, development and recapitulation. A sonatina is the same thing, but shorter and lighter in character. It is also the name of the first of Graziano’s ballets to be performed Jan. 26-29 at the FSU Center’s Mertz Theatre. Sonatina was written after COVID-19 (many performance organizations now call that their “digital season”) to welcome attendees back to their real brick and mortar homes. Accompanying the dancers will be the splendid notes of Dvořák’s Violin Sonatina in G Major.

The second item on the program is a Graziano ballet that no one as yet has seen, as it is another Sarasota Ballet world premiere. The music to which they dance was to be composed by the artist often know by his/her initials – TBA (to be announced). However, as TBA became unavailable, a Mr. Schubert was able to fill in with his Symphony No. 2 in B-flat. Once you have seen for yourself how these dancers turn, glide and twirl, you may wish to write your own description of this new work.

The third of Graziano’s celebrations is the masterpiece he wrote for the Sarasota Ballet’s performance at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, In a State of Weightlessness. The dance critic Carrie Seidman said Graziano’s “exploration of suspension, lightness and ethereality was so mesmerizing, it seemed to go by in a heartbeat.” 

Normally Graziano would hear something in the work of a composer which would inspire him and the work he was to produce. He first choreographed this piece and then, after listening to many compositions, recognized that Philip Glass’s Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra matched what he had just completed.

Jeffrey Daniel pioneered the dance move he called the backslide and taught it to Michael Jackson who called it the moonwalk. While everyone loved it, it was just walking. Graziano takes it to the ultimate level where multiple SB dancers seem to perform on the moon itself, not just walking backwards under it.

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Long time coming

The first step in writing a play is to come up with a concept. Something different, new and, hopefully, of interest to an audience. The novelist Virginia Woolf wrote nine novels and volume after volume of essays and memoirs but only one play. That work, a comedy filled with inside jokes, was mainly written to amuse members of the Bloomsbury Group. So, not broad audience appeal.

In one of her essays, Ms. Woolf posits a question: what if “Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith?”

This was not a throwaway line, it was central to the essay’s theme; that a woman, without money and a room of her own, could achieve nothing. However, Woolf did not develop this idea further, either into novel, story, or play. More’s the pity, if she had expounded upon this idea, the world’s feminist movement might have advanced a bit more during the 100 years since this thought flowed from head, to pen, to paper.

Fortunately, the playwright Katie Bender, while perhaps immersed in an English lit course, chanced upon these words and brought Woolf’s literary seed into fruition. And, happily for us, the Urbanite Theatre has let this gem blossom, in its world premiere, here in Sarasota from Jan. 4 through Feb. 18.

Like Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, Livy Scanlon, as Judith, dons male garb in order to prove her skills to the world – or at least to London’s literary cognoscenti of the time. Brendon Fox has structured Judith in such a way that, while raising questions of identity, ambition, and self-worth, it is a work of much broader appeal than Ms. Woolf might have imagined.

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Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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