Sarasota Music Festival returns with a reunion of alumni and favorites

Pianist Ya-Fei Chuang is a guest soloist during the opening weekend of the 2022 Sarasota Music Festival.
Pianist Ya-Fei Chuang is a guest soloist during the opening weekend of the 2022 Sarasota Music Festival.
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When she was a student fellow at the Sarasota Music Festival nearly 30 years ago, Ya-Fei Chuang thought it was one of the most important teaching festivals in the world.

“For a student to be able to go for weeks at a time to work with the top musicians from all over the world, to not only perform and study chamber music in various groups, but focus also on solo study and masterclasses, it was just very valuable to me,” she said in a recent Zoom interview.

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Chuang, whose husband, fellow pianist Robert Levin, was the artistic director of the festival for a decade and a longtime faculty member, is looking forward to experiencing how the program has grown and changed as she returns to Sarasota next weekend as the soloist for the concert called “Chuang Plays Chopin.” The Saturday night concert is one of four opening weekend concerts for the three-week festival, which returns with live performances for the first time since 2019.

The orchestral program, conducted by Yaniv Dinur, features Chuang playing Chopin’s Piano Concert No. 2 in F Minor, in a program that also features Jessie Montgomery’s “Starburst” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4.

The Chopin piece is one of her favorites.

“This concerto sparkles with bravura. But the reason I love this concerto dearly is that it’s one of the most passionate, intense, dramatic concertos and yet always in an elegant deeply felt way,” she said. “For me, it also has the most intimate personal moments, the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments and that is precious to me, something that I don’t feel with other concertos.”

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She acknowledges, however, that it’s not necessarily the best choice for the orchestra musicians, who “remain quite a bit in the background, yet it’s so important for the soloist to feel them. You play this concerto with a feel for chamber music. It’s that kind of collaboration.”

Yaniv Dinur, resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and music director of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, is a guest conductor for the Sarasota Orchestra.
Yaniv Dinur, resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and music director of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, is a guest conductor for the Sarasota Orchestra.

Chuang usually practices for hours a day but during the pandemic, when many concerts were canceled, she “got a bit lazy with practicing. I’m one of those people, if you don’t have a deadline for concerts, you don’t spend as much time practicing.”

She stayed busy on outings with her husband, long walks that they never had time for together before. “I watched a lot of great movies. Usually, the only time I could watch movies without feeling guilty about not working was when I was on an airplane flying some place.”

Levin will join with current Artistic Director Jeffrey Kahane for a talk on music featured in the 2022 festival and issues related to music at 1 p.m. June 15.

The pandemic allowed Chuang to appreciate other things in life, which may have given her a new perspective when she appears in concert.

“I do feel that for some reason after these two years of a hiatus of performances, everything, not just music, in my life, seems to be more vivid, more intense and that transfers into my playing,” she said.

The music festival, which began as a one-week event in 1965, now runs three weeks and brings in about 60 young musicians who work with a rotating roster of professional musicians in private lessons, masterclasses, rehearsals and concerts.

Each weekend there are at least four concerts. This year’s festival begins at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Holley Hall in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center with the return of the Calidore String Quartet performing Schubert’s String Quartet No. 12 in C Minor. The concert also features Kahane and clarinetist Franklin Cohen playing more Schubert. Carol Wincenc, flute, a longtime faculty member, also will perform, as will violinist Alexander Kerr, cellist Timothy Eddy and pianist Bernadene Blaha.

The Calidore quartet returns at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Sarasota Opera House playing Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A Major, joined by Kahan. The rest of the program features Bach’s Brandenburg Concert No. 3 in G Major, Nielsen’s Wind Quintet and F. Price’s “Adoration.”

The festival fellows are in focus in the first of three Rising Stars concerts at 2:30 p.m. June in Holley Hall. The opening program features works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Faure, Schubert and Hindemith.

Sarasota Music Festival

Ya-Fei Chuang is piano soloist in the Sarasota Music Festival’s “Chuang Plays Chopin” concert led by guest conductor Yaniv Dinur at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $29-$65. Opening weekend also includes the Calidore Quartet returning for “Darkness to Light” at 4:30 p.m. June 9 at Holley Hall, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, and “Reunion” at 7:30 p.m. June 10 at the Sarasota Opera House. Music Festival Fellows are featured in “Rising Stars I” at 2:30 p.m. June 12 in Holley Hall. Ticket information: 941-953-3434;

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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Chamber, orchestra and recital programs open Sarasota Music Festival