CONCERT REVIEW: Sarasota Orchestra presents tour de force under guest conductor Chen

Mei-Ann Chen
Sarasota Herald Tribune

By Gayle Williams

The Sarasota Orchestra was brimming with bubbling energy throughout its most recent concert with guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen. Chen is a petite dynamo, much like the orchestra’s new music director Anu Tali, which is an absolute delight to see for those of us applauding the increased stature of female conductors throughout the orchestra world. Smiling yet commanding, she brought a consistent high level of performance and polish from the orchestra which we hope is now the new norm.

I must thank Chen for introducing us all to the music of Chinese-Canadian composer An-Lun Huang and his “Saibei Dance” from Saibei Suite No. 2, Op. 21, No. 5. Fresh to most ears, it was a joyous romp starting with a flashy flute solo feeding into sumptuous use of all factions of the orchestra with a generous dose of percussion. Chen kept it bright and brimming with good will.

In fact, while the Maurice Ravel Piano Concert in G major featured soloist Jean-Philippe Collard, the many colors of the diverse orchestral palette remained the star of this entire concert. Collard had ample opportunity to show off his dexterity and technique, and the orchestra as well, but most memorable are the colors and textures of the music. Infused with touches of jazz, or blue notes, the outer movements were invigorating bookends to a dreamy, relaxed Adagio with floating solo lines and piquant harmonies. The concerto closed with glistening fast figures dealt by Collard and all with exciting speed, the last of which seemingly propelled Collard to stand at his full height to greet the applause.

“Scheherazade” is an exotic orchestral tale woven, not by the new bride stalling death by entertaining her husband, but by the master orchestrator Nicolai Rimski-Korsakov.

Again, the colors and characters of every instrument of the orchestra are the stars of this epic piece. And the principal star concertmaster among them was Daniel Jordan whose glimmering free-flowing solo lines served as the connecting thread among the four movements.

The deeply-resonant opening chords contrasting the near transparent pianissimo wind chords that followed stand as a simple testament to the extreme capabilities of these musicians. What seemed simple at first carried through the musical and technical demands of the entire work. The string tone, magnificent in the lush romantic melodies, was coupled with excellent solo turns by all the winds and brass. By the conclusion we were spent by Chen’s exhilarating tempos of the tour de force performance.