Sarasota Music Fest Bids Adieu To Founding Director

Paul Wolfe

The Sarasota Music Festival was born out of the vision of artistic director Paul Wolfe forty-two years ago. He wanted to keep the music playing through the summer.

LEVIN: Of Course it wouldn't be here without Paul.

When Wolfe started the festival he was the Music director of the Florida West Coast Symphony. Festival Associate Director Robert Levin says Wolfe quickly transformed what was largely an amateur group into a professional orchestra. And along the way developed a youth program and created the Florida String Quartet. Levin says without a community where the ideas found resonance and the singular vision of Wolfe, none of those things would have happened.

LEVIN: He carefully built up a community of artists people who were flexible, who were idealistic as he was, people who didn't rock the boat, didn't create ego problems and so on and were, as he was absolutely committed the Festival's educational mission.

Once the festival was established, Wolfe says they decided free tuition and subsidized hotels would be the magnet to attract the best and brightest string players, woodwind musicians and pianists from the nation's top music conservatories.

WOLFE: Because they're poor.

The money to fund the musical scholarships comes from donors in the community. Robert Levin says the competition to get into the program is fierce and the students come from all over.

LEVIN: From as far to the west as Bejing and Shanghai and Taipei and Tokyo and Seoul on the one hand and as far east as Minsk and Moscow. It's truly an international group of students.

(Schubert: Soiree-Stucke)

And unlike many other summer festivals, it's the students who decide what they'll play in chamber and orchestral concerts and in master classes.

At the Sarasota Music Festival, students learn from and play side by side with world renowed artists like Robert Levin, Ani Kavafian and Robert Vernon. Bassist Kevin Jablonski is a Rice University Sophomore. He says the faculty is out of this world.

JABLONSKI: You know all the students are incredibly amazing, the finest from all over the country and all the conservatories and just to have that level of playing and being able to work at music in such a short amount of time and being able to put it at such a high level is just extraordinary. I love it.

And Levin says the mission of the festival is clear.

LEVIN: What we are trying to do here is not to just to try to make people into competent, career musicians who can play reliably and make a good living. Heaven knows, we'd better be able to do that. But that's the prerequisite. That's the doorway, and they have to go through that doorway and after that the real question is, can you really reach an audience and get inside their minds and their hearts and teach them things about themselves that they don't even fathom are there.

As Paul Wolfe steps down, he will take away memories of friendships and profound performances.

WOLFE: Oh, I just think some really outstanding performances, of which I hope this Saturday will be one and I think just the colleagues, perhaps because people are most important.

In Wolfe's last week as artistic director, students conspired to suprise their leader with a special piece of music after lunch.

(Hail to the Chief)

After that musical salute, Wolfe told the students his greatest joy is to hear them all play beautifully.

And the man known for not wanting to be the center of attention will be at the heart of the stage conducting the final concert of this Sarasota Music Festival season on Saturday night at the Sarasota Opera House.

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