Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 13, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist
A not-very-funny thing happened on the way to the end of the first movement of Beethoven’s G Major Piano Concerto Saturday night: The lights went out in the Opera House. It seems that one of Florida Power & Light’s feeder cables going into the theater died, leaving only the emergency “panic” lights on in the house and a few spotty spots overhead on stage.
One of the wonderful things about music, though, is that it can be played (and heard) in the dark. As long as you can see the music, that is. The solo pianist, John Perry, was playing from memory so he just soldiered on. The wonderful conductor, Larry Rachleff, knew the score. And the orchestra, made up primarily of students with young, bright eyes, seemed able to see their music and instruments and never missed a beat. What was most annoying was the incessantly beeping alarm — sometimes in G, and sometimes not — that persisted through two-and-a-half movements of the concerto.
The all-Beethoven program opened on a brighter note with the overture to “The Creatures of Prometheus.” Rachleff, who conducted with great acclaim at the festival a couple of seasons ago, brought a cohesive, brilliant sound from the orchestra, which was made up primarily of students with a smattering of faculty members and some well-known first-chair players from the Sarasota Orchestra.
The strings, led by Sarasota Orchestra’s concertmaster Daniel Jordan, were particularly brilliant in the allegro section of the work, playing together as if they’d had years (not mere days) as an ensemble.
It’s almost impossible to comment on the piano concerto because of the circumstances but, truth be told, Perry, a longtime festival faculty member, was not at his best, even before the lights went out. While Rachleff and the orchestra did some beautiful music-making throughout the piece, the pianist struggled technically, making his performance less than what one would expect.
The audience, however, gave all the musicians an enthusiastic cheer at intermission as a thank you for doing what they could under particularly challenging conditions.
Finally, Joseph McKenna, president and CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, came on stage and announced that the backstage crew and FPL were working to restore power and it was hoped the concert would resume after intermission. But, after a prolonged interval, the audience was told the second half — which would have been devoted to Beethoven’s mighty “Eroica” symphony — would not take place, leaving listeners and players with an evening that will probably not be forgotten.
P.S. Sunday evening, when we got home from dinner, we had four — count them, four — phone calls and two emails from the folks at the Sarasota Music Festival saying that all ticket holders to Saturday night’s aborted concert were welcome to attend, free, a performance of the “Eroica” Monday evening at the Opera House. In fact, they even added “Prometheus overture” to the program. And they said, “The Sarasota Music Festival artistic leadership, staff and faculty regret the inconvenience this has caused our audience.” Now that’s the way to turn a bitter lemon into a sweet sorbet!