A Classic Festival

by Jeri Magg

LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN, Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, along with other classical composers, will visit Sanibel Island in March. The lilting sounds of these composers will permeate the halls of the Sanibel Congregational Church when the Sanibel Music Festival begins its twenty-second year.

A chance visit to the island in 1981 by Marilyn Lauriente, principal clarinetist with the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, gave birth to the idea. Distressed by the lack of classical music on the island, Lauriente used her management talents to organize concerts. During the next few years, she brought full opera companies as well as instrumental performances from duos and a 26-piece symphony orchestra, to festival audiences.

After her death, an all-volunteer Board keeps Lauriente’s dream alive by continuing to present world-renown ensembles and artists. Today, coordinating the event that attracts more than 2,000 attendees falls on the able shoulders of Nina and Bob Orell and Sue Pick.

Because of the festival’s popularity, widely acclaimed, as well as up-and-coming musicians and singers, apply to be part of the series. Criteria for selection includes musical awards, professional recommendations and compact discs (CDs) sampling the artists’s work.

According to publicity chairman Jana Stone, the screening process takes months. “After listening to hundreds of CDs, the music committee must agree unanimously before a single artist, trio or group is selected. Sometimes they ask an artist to choose different music if it doesn’t quite fit our Sanibel audiences.”

The festival’s high standard of excellence will surely be met by this year’s outstanding talent who plan to showcase an amazing mix of musical innovation.

The opening concert on March 3 is the Trio Solisti. Their cutting edge versatility will dazzle audiences when violinist Maria Bachman, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach and pianist Jon Kilbonoff perform. Bachman, hailed by the New York Times as “a violinist of soul and patrician refinement,” was profiled by Time Magazine and Mirabella. During his career, Pianist Klibonoff has appeared as orchestra soloist, solo recitalist and chamber musician throughout the U.S. and abroad. Cellist Gerlach has performed all over the world and collaborated in a duo with New York City Ballet principal dancer Damian Woetzel at the Caramoor Festival. Composers Schubert, Brahms and Piazzolla, will be part of their repertoire.

The Biava Quartet is scheduled to grace the stage on March 7. Recognized as one of today’s most exciting young American string quartets, members include violinists Austin Hartman and Hyunsu Ko, cellist Jason Calloway and violist Mary Persin. The Quartet always impresses audiences with their sensitive artistry and communicative powers.

Cellist Jason Calloway debuted at Carnegie Hall under the auspices of Artists International and has also been heard at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Violinist Hyunsu Ko began her studies at the age of four in her native South Korea. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music respectively.

Mary Persin, founding member and violist of the Quartet, was featured in a live radio broadcast in the Performance Pittsburgh Series. In addition to her international concertizing and teaching, Persin maintains a keen interest in the business aspect of music and arts advocacy. Violinist Austin Harman, also a founding member of the Quartet, presents worldwide concerts and master classes for audiences of all ages. He was awarded the Gold Medal Prize at the Julius and Esther Stulberg International Competition in Michigan.

On March 10, Chinese pianist Natalie Zhu will undoubtedly enthrall classical music lovers. A child prodigy at age six, she made her first public appearance at nine in Beijing. At eleven she emigrated with her family to Los Angeles. She won the grand prize in 1988 and 1989 in the Young Keyboard Artists Competition and was the top prize winner in the first China International Piano Competition. Shu has been touring with renowned violinist Hilary Hahn and performing at Carnegie Hall, Hanoi, Bangkok, Tokyo, London, and Geneva.

Cellist David Finckel and Wu Han, his pianist wife, will select pieces by Bach and Schumann on March 14. Finckel and Han often appear at music festivals, including those in Aspen and Santa Fe. They have been aptly dubbed “America’s power couple of chamber music” by The Wall Street Journal. Beyond the concert stage, Finckel and Han devote time to music education and serve as artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

The Prazak String Quartet, now in their thirty-fifth year, is established as one of the pre-eminent string ensembles in chamber music. On Tuesday, March 17 violists Josef Kluson and Josef Prazak, violinists Vaclav Remes and Vlastimil Holek along with cellist Michal Kanka will perform. The 1974 the Quartet received first prize at the Prague Conservatory Chamber Music Competition. Within twelve months their international career was launched with a concert at the 1975 Prague Spring Music Festival. Comfortable on music stages worldwide, they are regular guests in major European musical capitals and at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and throughout North America. A review by the New York Times describes their performance “as the kind of virtuosity that does not call attention to itself, but leaves the listener feeling secure that the music is in capable hands...”

Opera arrives on Sanibel March 21 with the Opera Theater of Connecticut. A select group of six of the company’s vocal artists will present a program of opera highlights. Director Alan Mann will add his witty and informative commentary before each selection.

The Pacifica String Quartet’s concert on March 24 closes the series. The resident quartet at the Universities of Illinois and Chicago, they swept top awards in international competitions and were selected for the Avery Fisher Career Grant. Violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernardsson, cellist Brandon Vamos and violist Masumi Per Rostad perform with an exuberant style. They are often heard on National Public Radio’s Performance Today.

Because of the tremendous talent and high quality of the festival, National Public Radio has again elected to broadcast the concerts on 360 stations in its nationwide network. Local broadcasts can be heard on “Performance Today” during April and May following the March season.

For more information about the Sanibel Music Festival, call 336-7999. •

Sanibel Music Festival
March 3
– Trio Solisti
March 7
– Biava Quartet
March 10
– Di Wu
March 14
– David Finckel & Wu Han
March 17
– Prazak String Quartet
March 21
– Opera Theater of Connecticut
March 24
– Pacifica String Quartet
all concerts 8pm
Congregational Church
2050 Periwinkle Way

from the March-April 2009 issue

Pacifica String

David Finckel
& Wu Han

Prazak String Quartet