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Young musicians will be on display when the Sarasota Music Festival opens its 60th season

A man in a purple button down leans up against a railing at the water's edge, with rocks below and a bridge in the distance.
The Sarasota Orchestra
Sarasota Music Festival Artistic Director Jeffrey Kahane.

Dozens of young musicians and faculty artists are in town for the three-week festival, which gets underway June 2.

The Sarasota Music Festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary this season.

Artistic Director Jeffrey Kahane attributes its success to the vision of one of its co-founders, Paul Wolfe.

“From that very first week, he brought the very finest musicians in the country and some from abroad. And he continued to do that," Kahane said. "And that's what I attribute the longevity and the health of the festival to.”

Kahane called the festival one of the most long-lived in the country.

Kahane said hundreds of young musicians from across the country and world applied for the limited number of positions as fellows at the Sarasota Music Festival. And this year, some of the focus will be on improvisation, with the help of faculty musicians known for their approaches to it.

“We have Jeff Scott, who is brilliant composer and horn teacher and player, but also a fabulous jazz musician," Kahane said. "We have Tessa Lark who is a brilliantly, absolutely phenomenal virtuoso in the classical world, but also is a phenomenal bluegrass player. We have Mike Block, who is a cellist, also classically trained, but who also does all kinds of things with world music. And then we have Robert Levin, who is one of the legendary improvisers in the world, and he's going to improvise in the classical manner.”

Paul Wolfe (far right, facing) coaches SMF students in 1966
Courtesy of The Sarasota Orchestra.
Paul Wolfe (far right, facing) coaches SMF students in 1966

Kahane said improvisation was a regular part of classical music in the time of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. But it died out sometime between the end of the 19th century and the mid-20th century. He said there are eyewitness accounts of the brilliance Beethoven demonstrated.

“Beethoven, one famous occasion, sat down and improvised without stopping for two hours straight," Kahane said. "And people who heard him play said that, as wonderful as it was to hear him perform, or conduct his written compositions — that hearing him improvise was something absolutely beyond description in terms of how powerful it was.”

Kahane said he’s been improvising since he was a child, and developing the skill of improvisation will be hugely advantageous for the young music fellows.

“On a number of levels, not least of which is that the experience — the psychological, emotional, and physical experience of improvising — is hugely liberating," Kahane said. "It changes the way you feel, when you know how to do that, because you are not simply focused … as so many classical musicians have been, to read, learn, and perform a score.”

Kahane said he programs the festival so that every performance is one that people would want to attend.

“We're always excited about the festival. It's a very electric time when you have these 60 or so really extraordinary young musicians who come from all over the world. Just descending and from day one, the symphony center is alive with music,” Kahane said.

Kahane said not every festival opens its doors to allow the public in to observe the rehearsal process or witness master classes. But The Sarasota Music Festival does, for a modest fee.

He said friendships will be forged as well as musical partnerships during the three-week festival.

Classical WSMR will also feature live performances from Sarasota Music Festival artists on Wednesday, June 5 at 2 p.m.; Tuesday, June 11 at 2 p.m.; and Tuesday, June 18, at 11 a.m.

You can get more information on the Sarasota Music Festival here.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.