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Sanibel Music Festival offering world-class concerts all month

By Staff | Mar 10, 2020


A chance to experience the highest standard of classical music is taking place on the islands.

The 34th annual Sanibel Music Festival kicked off on March 3 with the Manhattan Chamber Players, the first of seven concerts planned throughout March. Held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, each of the performances takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ on Sanibel.

Jana Stone, president of the board, explained that the festival began with a female musician and impresario. Clarinetist Marilyn Lauriente would visit Sanibel during the month of March, but found it lacked something. So, she began inviting her friends and they would play concerts on the beach.

“She used to come down, and she would invite her friends,” she said, noting that Lauriente was the principal clarinetist at the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra. “They would go out on the beach and play.”

Stone explained that BIG ARTS existed at the time but was more focused on the visual arts, so the oceanside performances filled a gap. From there it grew, with the festival incorporating in 1986.

PHOTO PROVIDED Gould Trio with Robert Plane

“It all started on the beach,” she said.

For the past two decades or so, the performances have been held at the church.

“It’s a very intimate venue,” Stone said, adding that every ticket provides a great seat for the performance. “It doesn’t matter where you sit, the acoustics in that building are superb.”

For this year’s concert series, the Manhattan Chamber Players were followed by the Rolston String Quartet on March 7 and Boston Chamber Music Society with harpist Ann Hobson Pilot on March 10.

The remaining lineup will consist of Avery Gagliano, winner of the 2020 National Chopin Piano Competition; the Gould Trio, with clarinetist Robert Plane; and The Opera Theater of Connecticut’s “Andrew Lloyd Webber: Superstar of Song and Stage.” The Emerson String Quartet is the finale.

PHOTO PROVIDED “Andrew Lloyd Webber: Superstar of Song and Stage”

The committee assigned with picking the acts aims for balance and variety.

“We try to vary the program, so there is a little of everything in the chamber genre, the classical music genre,” she said. “We try and kind of blend the program, so that there’s something for everyone.”

“We fill a niche for those who love classical music,” Stone added.

The remaining performances are as follows:

– March 14: 2020 National Chopin Piano Competition winner (subhead)

PHOTO PROVIDED Emerson String Quartet

Avery Gagliano, 18, triumphed over 25 competitors to win The National Chopin Piano Competition

of the United States. She now moves on to the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland, to compete for the $100,000 prize, plus an extensive concert tour organized by the Chopin Foundation.

Gagliano studies piano at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and is a four-year winner of the Chopin Foundation Scholarship and a Young Scholar of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. At age nine, she made her orchestral debut with the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra at the Strathmore Concert Hall and performed at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in New York.

Gagliano has collaborated with orchestras such as the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, Tuscarawas Philharmonic and MostArts Festival Orchestra, and has garnished top prizes at the 2019 Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition, Aspen Music Festival Concerto Competition and MostArts Festival piano competition. Her success has taken her to some of the most prestigious venues, like the Verbier Festival, Oxford Philomusica Piano Festival, Piano Texas International Academy & Festival and Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall.

“Gagliano will be representing American in the worldwide Chopin Competition,” Stone said. “The Sanibel Music Festival is her premier performance, it’s her debut since she became the winner.”

“She’s going to be doing an all-Chopin program,” she added.

– March 21: Gould Trio with clarinetist Robert Plane (subhead)

Compared to the Beaux Arts Trio for its “musical fire” and “dedication to the genre,” the Gould Trio – violinist Lucy Gould, pianist Benjamin Frith and cellist Richard Lester – have remained at the forefront of the international chamber music scene for a quarter of a century. Launched by its first prize at the Melbourne Chamber Music Competition and later selected as YCAT Artists, its members were “rising stars,” making a highly successful debut at New York’s Weill Recital Hall.

Commissioning and performing new works is an important part of the trio’s philosophy of staying creative and inspired. Recently, it premiered “Four Fables,” written for it by popular British composer Huw Watkins. The group has made extensive tours of North America, the Far East, New Zealand and Europe. Its own festival in Corbridge, Northumberland, attracts fans from as far away as Australia.

Plane’s varied career has seen concerto appearances in Europe, Asia and the United States, with performances of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in Madrid with the City of London Sinfonia, in Beijing with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and in America with the Virginia Symphony. In 1992, he won the overall Gold Medal at the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition, and Plane made his BBC Proms debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.

He is a successful recording artist and is highly regarded for his solo recordings for Naxos. Plane’s account of Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto won Classic CD Magazine’s “Best Concerto Recording” Award and it was selected as BBC Radio 3’s recommended version in “Building a Library. His recording of Bax Sonatas was shortlisted for a Gramophone Award.

“They’re just well respected,” Stone said of the trio, noting that Gould is married to Plane.

“They were here about three or four years ago,” she added of their prior performance at the Sanibel Music Festival. “They were so well received that we are bringing them back.”

– March 24: “Andrew Lloyd Webber: Superstar of Song and Stage” (subhead)

Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the most successful composer of today’s time. He is best known for stage and film adaptations of his musicals “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Cats,” “Evita” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Along the way, Webber has collected a variety of honors, including knighthood, seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Oscar and Kennedy Center recognition.

The Opera Theater of Connecticut and its group of first-rate professional singers will celebrate his amazing and brilliant career through an exciting selection of moving pieces from his acclaimed shows. The concert will be punctuated with appropriate, humorous and informative narrations from the stage by the theater’s Artistic Director Alan Mann, a noted speaker and opera-music theater historian.

“They’ve had a 21-year relationship with the festival,” Stone said of the theater. “They’ve been with us a long time. They bring in these wonderful young artists, who are just beginning their careers.”

“People love them,” she added.

Stone noted that the performance is nearly sold out, if not already.

– March 28: Emerson String Quartet

The Emerson String Quartet – violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins – has maintained its stature as one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles for over four decades. It has made more than 30 acclaimed recordings and has been honored with nine Grammys, including two for Best Classical Album, three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year.”

The quartet frequently collaborates with some of today’s most esteemed composers to premiere new works, keeping the string quartet art form alive and relevant. They have partnered in performances with stellar soloists, including Rene Fleming, Barbara Hannigan, Evgeny Kissin, Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman.

The Emerson String Quartet’s recordings range from Bach to Harbison, including the complete string quartets of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartok, Webern and Shostakovich, as well as multi-CD sets of the major works of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Dvorak. It has also recorded music by Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Debussy, Ravel, Barber and Ives, and it has commissioned and performed new works from composers like Thomas Ads, Kaija Saariaho,Wolfgang Rihm, Mark-Anthony Turnage, and Edgar Meyer.

“They are really considered the Rolls-Royce of string quartets,” Stone said, noting that they perform at the festival every couple years. “They were inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2010.”

“They will be the grand finale,” she added.

Tickets are only $50 per concert.

“We really thank our sponsors tremendously,” Stone said. “It’s because of their support we’re able to keep the prices affordable.”

This year’s series is sponsored by Janet and Joseph Davie, Gene and Lee Seidler, Linda and Doug Garde, Linda Cramer, Jackie and Roy Sweeney Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Gaye and Jim Pigott, Patricia and Davis Thurber, the LAT Foundation and Lee Ann Tauck, and Sue and Tom Pick. In addition, the festival receives support from the Lee County Tourist Development Council.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to pick up tickets and be awed.

“This is just an outstanding series of musicians. If you were in the city of Boston or New York or Philadelphia, you’d be paying top dollar to go see all of these people,” she said. “And it’s just going to be a wonderful evening of entertainment. It will feed your spirit and soul.”

Tickets can be purchased at www.sanibelmusicfestival.org. They are also available at Bank of the Islands, at 1699 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel; however, cash and check will only be accepted.

For more information, visit online or call 239-344-7025.

Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ is at 2050 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.