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Sanibel Music Festival celebrates 25 years of providing high culture for low prices

By Staff | Feb 23, 2011

Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel, Liz Freivogel and Daniel McDonough of the Jupiter String Quartet.

The mission of the Sanibel Music Festival is to present classical music of the highest standard and to promote the careers of emerging artists through performance opportunities at affordable prices.

And for 25 years, this not-for-profit — run solely by volunteers — has been doing just that.

Beginning on March 5, the Sanibel Music Festival will celebrate the silver anniversary by presenting seven concerts featuring up and coming chamber music artists, in addition to some former festival favorites.

The festival began when Marilyn Lauriente, principal clarinetist with the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, came down to visit her sister on Sanibel and, much to her surprise, discovered there was no music on Sanibel.

But because the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra just so happened to be on vacation in March, Lauriente gathered up a few interested performers and held the first, very informal, Sanibel Music Festival on the beach.

Olga Kern.

“It just continued to grow from there. In 1987, it became a incorporated as a not for profit organization and just kept evolving,” said Sanibel Music Festival board member Jana Stone. “It’s now held in the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, which is a wonderful venue for concerts of this kind. The Festival is one of the top five chamber music festivals in the United States, but it’s also a festival in which artists really want to participate — not only because of our beautiful community, of course, but because of the high caliber of the festival.”

This year’s festival line up includes many accomplished performers, including the Gould Piano Trio, Olga Kern, the Jupiter String Quartet and the Opera Theater of Connecticut, a Sanibel Music Festival staple for the last 15 years.

“Sanibel is such a great place to perform and over the years, we have made some great friends down there. The audiences are always absolutely wonderful and they’re very receptive — our artists love that about them,” said Opera Theater of Connecticut Artistic Director Alan Mann. “The Sanibel Music Festival is also very prestigious. They’re in their 25th year — not a lot of music festivals can say that. It’s a major milestone and we’re happy to be a part of it.

“The festival board works so hard to bring in high quality artists, and we are an anomaly among the performance groups on Sanibel,” Mann continued, “and when I look at the list of chamber musicians that have performed down there, being coupled with them by association makes a wonderful statement about us. We love that!

“Chamber music can be very esoteric for some people — it’s an acquired taste,” Stone said. “But Sanibel is a very cultured community and so they appreciate and support this kind of music. It’s amazing that little Sanibel island can generate 200 to 300 people for every concert.” She also noted that in the March, the Jupiter String Quartet will also give a special performance at the Sanibel School, which feeds into the festival’s greater promoting and educating the public about chamber music.

Maria Bachman, Jon Klibonoff and Alexis Pia Gerlach of Trio Solisiti.

“The festival is wholly run by volunteers, so it is a labor of love for the people that work on it. A lot of music festivals can’t survive just because of the costs and we’ve been so fortunate to have underwriters for all of our seven performances this year — and what’s really great about this festival is that all of the performances are concentrated within the month of March — you can pick from a smorgasbord of music,” Stone said.

But the most important feature of the festival, Stone said, is the price of the tickets.

“The tremendous support from sponsors enables us to keep our ticket prices affordable, which is really important. If you were in New York City and went to Carnegie Hall, where all these artists have performed at least once, you’re paying $150 to $175 a ticket — but for the Sanibel Music Festival, you’re only paying $30 to $40 a ticket.

Tickets may be purchased for the seven concert series at $230, a savings of $35, by calling 239-344-7025, or by going to www.sanibelmusicfestival.org.

Single tickets are available at Bank of the Islands, 1699 Periwinkle Way, and Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, 2477 Library Way.

Benjamin Frith, Lucy Gould and Alice Neary of the Gould Piano Trio.

All concerts start at 8 p.m. at the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, 2050 Periwinkle Way.

Muneko Otani, Jennifer Leshower, Nicole Johnson and Michiko Oshima of the Cassatt String Quartet.