Arts on the Horizon: January

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By Rodger Skidmore

It will be a good New Year

How do we know? Well, for starters, last year is over. And, Rachmaninoff is alive and well, and will be here in Sarasota this month. Well, at least his fingers will be — in that Garrick Ohlsson will be performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Sarasota Orchestra and will be, to the best of his ability, channeling that great composer.

Or, Heavens to Betsy, perhaps adding a new level on interpretation. Mr. Ohlsson has been interpreting all the great composers since winning the triple crown (first place in the Chopin, Busoni and Montreal piano competitions). He did not win any awards in the Oswego, New York piano competition, but only because there never was such a competition. If there had been one, everyone is sure that he would have come in first, by at least half a length.

     In 2015, the Washington Post wrote that Rachmaninoff’s third was his “most difficult work” and is “40 minutes of finger-twitching madness.” In the movie Shine, the actor Geoffrey Rush portrays the pianist, David Helfgott, as he goes mad learning that piece for a piano competition.

When Mr. Ohlsson arrives for his three-day stint in Sarasota he will be “on tour” from here to California. But have no fear, he will not be playing the Rack 3 every day — a person could go mad doing that.

     Jeffrey Kahane, music director of the Sarasota Music Festival (June of 2022), having not much to do in January, will be directing the Sarasota Orchestra as they perform the Rachmaninoff (Ohlsson will not be doing the concerto as a solo). As a filler piece, just to have something to do while Mr. Ohlsson is warming up, Kahane will also be directing the orchestra as they perform Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.

     The orchestra will not be playing any Schubert, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, or Mozart on Jan. 7, 8 or 9, during this concert at the Van Wezel. To hear those composers, in a more intimate chamber setting, simply go to Holley Hall on Jan. 23 (Schubert/Mendelssohn) and/or the 27th (Beethoven/Mozart). If you go on the 27th you will get to hear a bonus piece (“Street Song” by Michael Tilson Thomas).

All info at Sarasotaorchestra.org.

Want more? The Sarasota Orchestra will be performing Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Smith on Feb. 3 to 6. Special treat: Augustin Hadelich performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with guest conductor Yaniv Dinur.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare said “The play’s the thing”

     And, in January, that is exactly right. So, if you’re looking for something grand, Grand Horizons may be just the play for you.

Remember that Grant Wood painting where the really jolly farm couple (he with his pitchfork at the ready) are staring out at you? You may have some thoughts about what they think of the world, but what do they think of each other? That’s the thing that this play is all about. In the painting he was bald and looked a bit dried up, while she had her lips pursed — but with that blonde hair (bleached?) maybe she was from Chicago, and not born and bred in Iowa. What gives with these people — what happens to them when retirement brings them to sunny Florida? And what of those farm animals that they left behind — their two sons — what do they think?

     Bess Wohl’s play is not just dealing with the viewpoint of someone who lives in the Midwest and how that viewpoint has changes when they moved to Florida, but with the greater idea of how it changed from when they were 18 to how it is now when they are 80.

Perhaps many of us can relate to that. Everyone who is 80 once was 18 — the question is, do we remember how we felt back then? Or has our memory changed as we aged so that we think we remember that we always thought the way we do now?

     Celine Rosenthal, artistic director of the FSU/Asolo Repertory Theatre, is directing Ms. Wohl’s play, which opens on Jan. 21 and runs through April 1 at the Mertz Theatre.

     “Two Americans …. head into Hitchcock territory” — “a taut edgy thriller” — “a portrait of a marriage coming undone” — “a stylish psychological thriller.” They all are quotes for earlier productions of an Amy Herzog play that is at the FSU/Cook Theatre, Jan. 4 through 23.

What is interesting is that both this play, Belleville, and the above-mentioned Grand Horizons, are kinda-sorta about the same subject — a married couple, neither of them really knowing the person to whom they are married. The difference being that one is a comedy and the other is, well, a bit darker. But then, maybe, that is just the difference between sunny Florida and Paris when it drizzles.

The actors in Belleville are all third-year students in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training graduate program and thus will be actors to watch, not just this month, but on stages across the country in the future.

     So much for couples that are dysfunctional. How about an entire town that does not know who they are, where they are going, or where they’ve been?

Back in 1938, when we were drifting toward World War II — although most of mainstream America did not seem to be clued into that concept — Thornton Wilder wrote the Pulitzer Prize-for-drama-winning play Our Town, letting everyone know how wonderful and exceptional everyone was. According to one website, the major themes of the play were “mortality, appreciating life, companionship and marriage, love, and the circle of life.” How could they have left out “apple pie”?

The play takes place in 1901 and opens with the milkman and paperboy making their morning deliveries. The stage direction specifies that there be no props, so there is no horse, wagon or newspapers. This is either because the play was written during the depression and they were saving money, or there were supply chain issues. Surely many can relate to those times. And if you can, the Asolo Rep production of Our Town will be running from Jan. 12 through March 26.

Info for all three plays at Asolorep.org.

Murder She Wrote

     Or was it Murder She Did? Or was it a murder at all?

This kind of tale would make a great three-part serious BBC drama, but let’s make it a musical taking place in Live Oaks, Florida.

(“Live Oaks just means Dead Folks where we come from” would make a good promo line.)

There’s nothing like a plot where a rich woman kills her doctor. This made all the newspapers back in 1952 and was covered by Zora Neal Hurston. Probably because alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, paternity issues, money, the IRS, and politics were involved.

     Book, music, lyrics, arrangements, and direction for Ruby were done in some combination by Nate and Michael Jacobs, Brennan Stylez, and Antonio Wimberly. It should have run in April and May of 2020, but, you know, things happened.

So, this world premiere will run from Jan. 12 through Feb. 27 at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s showplace on North Orange.

More info at Westcoastblacktheatre.org.

Double your pleasure, double your fun

     Harumi Hanafusa plays the piano. So does her sister. You can hear one of them (Harumi) the evening of Jan. 8 at the Historic Asolo Theater, or both of them (Harumi & Mami) the next afternoon at the same place. Single or duo, you are in for a treat. You were in for this treat last January but COVID intervened — so, the Hanafusa sisters are back for the first time.

     These ladies perform mostly with the Japanese orchestras so we are glad they are traveling from their home to ours. Harumi will do a smorgasbord of Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Beethoven (Moonlight Sonata), and Ravel (Gaspard de la nuit). When Mami gets into the act the next afternoon, Both Ravel’sBolero and Debussy’s Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune will be featured along with other works by these two composers. Why not book seats for both concerts — it will be a wonderful weekend. 

     Tosca, Madame Butterfly, and other French, German, and Italian operas come, it seems, to Sarasota every year. But England’s Gilbert & Sullivan – rarely. Like the Jefferson Airplane, Frankie Valli, and ZZ-Top tribute bands, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (accompanied by Joseph Holt on piano) will be bringing a host of their hits to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens the late afternoon / evening of Jan. 20. Yes, sunset with the Pirates of Penzance.

     The Temple Sinai Emerging Artist Series bring the Merz Trio (violin, piano, and cello, with added attraction Jordan Bak on viola) to Sarasota the afternoon of Jan. 23. This year’s tour includes New York at Merkin Hall, in Boston at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Along the way they’ve picked up the top prize at the 2021 Naumburg competition (plus others). Info for these concerts at Artistseriesconcerts.org

End of one month, beginning of the next

     Planning ahead is important. So, wherever your calendar is –The Smuggler on your desk, kitchen wall, or smart phone, pencil or click in the Sarasota Concert Association’s Great Performance Series at the Van Wezel. Since you’re probably not going to Detroit this season, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is coming here on Jan. 20. The double bill is Jader Bignamini conducting Mussorgsky/Ravel’sPictures at an Exhibition and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Joshua Roman on that instrument. 

     In addition to the Great Performance series, the SCA sponsors the free Music Matinee concerts that are held at David Cohen Hall. The four-person string/vocal group Passerine is performing at noon on Jan. 12 – vocal harmonies with acoustic strings (a fresh take on traditional folk and bluegrass).

     If you like Chopin and would like to hear an all-Chopin program (Sonata No. 3, Scherzo No. 4, some nocturnes and mazurkas and the Polonaise-fantaisie) by one of the top pianists of our time – Emanuel Ax — just remember Feb. 1st, at the Van Wezel. Info for these concerts at scasarasota.org.

Those other English speakers

     While Gilbert & Sullivan had a full company of players speaking their light-opera rhymes, Ronán Noone has only one person delivering his Irish tinged ones. Tim Finnegan, straight over from the old country and wanting to become a writer, has the struggles. Directed by the Urbanite Theatre’s co-founder, Brendan Ragan, The Smuggler will be at the Urbanite Theatre from Jan. 14 through Feb. 20.

   
Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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