Susan L. Rife, Correspondent
Violinist and composer Caroline Shaw was just 30 when she won the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2013 for her “Partita for 8 Voices.” She was the youngest Pulitzer winner for music since the award’s inception in 1943.
She wrote “Entr’Acte” two years before her big award, and has joked that it is “a gateway drug for new music,” said Christopher Takeda, violinist for the Sarasota Orchestra, which will open its “Inspirations” concerts Jan. 14-17 with Shaw’s piece.
“It’s accessible not only to the ears but in the technique,” said Takeda, who will perform “Entr’Acte” with Daniel Jordan, violin, Rachel Halvorson, viola, and Natalie Helm, cello.
The program also includes Antonin Dvorak’s 1883 composition, Nocturne in B Major, Op. 40, and Josef Suk’s 1892 composition Serenade for Strings. Dvorak was Suk’s teacher at the Prague Conservatory and future father-in-law when the 19-year-old wrote the Serenade at the behest of Dvorak, who encouraged his young student to move outside his melancholic compositions and write something a bit lighter.
The Serenade arguably provides the biggest challenge to the orchestra ensembles, as it’s written for as many as 20 musicians. COVID-19 restrictions limit the number of players on the stage at Holley Hall.
“By necessity it has to be a slightly trimmed-down version,” said violist Nathan Frantz. “We’re trying to fit as many people as we safely can on stage. Initially, we were only going to do two violas and two cellos, but some parts require three voices for those pieces.”
The orchestra’s performance also presents another challenge: The musicians are working without a conductor all season.
“It’s a beautiful piece, beautifully constructed and composed, but typically we would do this kind of piece with a conductor,” said Takeda. Working as a chamber orchestra “requires everyone in the ensemble to have a keen awareness of the score, of the other parts. It’s an elevated concept for chamber music.”
And the required six-foot spacing between musicians creates, in Takeda’s words, “an auditory challenge. There are a lot of things kind of in the way, just because of the safety measurements.”
A perhaps unexpected benefit, however, is that the musicians, strictly limited in rehearsal time and working without a conductor, have honed their skills both individually and as ensembles. In a normal Sarasota Orchestra season, the musicians move swiftly from one concert to the next with little time to focus on any one program.
“This year I’m much more keenly aware of really preparing as well as I can,” said Frantz, noting that the recording of the concerts is creating “a little more pressure on us to get it right. I mean that in a positive way, because we have such a limited audience that can come see us, and because all of our performances are being recorded for future streaming. That’s all we can do now to maintain a connection with our audience.”
Frantz and Takeda agreed that the small ensembles and tight rehearsal schedule – 90 minutes, no break, musicians limited to those performing – has led to better communication among musicians and better leadership among the principals.
And they are grateful to the orchestra board and management for keeping the season alive.
“We all have friends who have lost their jobs,” said Frantz. “We feel unbelievably grateful to our leadership.”
“And to this community that continually supports us in ways we sometimes don’t even see,” added Takeda. “We feel extra taken care of by this community because they love this orchestra so much. The community feels much like extended family. Even in the worst of times, I think the connection between us and our audience will be even more greatly strengthened.”
Sarasota Orchestra. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 5:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Jan. 17 in Holley Hall, Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Seating extremely limited. Streaming Jan. 21-26, $10. sarasotaorchestra.org; 941-953-3434.