Guest artists lead the Sarasota Orchestra at the Masterworks opening concert

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So what is the violinist Blake Pouliot to do when the pandemic ended his acting career? Make bread? Have a puppy? Organize all the photos on your phone?

How about getting started with Olympic weightlifting?

“It affected every aspect of my life,” said Pouliot, a Toronto native who moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17 to study at Colburn School in Los Angeles and never left. “Playing the violin is counter-intuitive. You go against gravity, twisting your body, your neck, your torso. It really is a physical thing. What I learned doing all this really intense fitness, it made all those little muscles in my forearms stronger. Practicing wasn’t so physically draining anymore.

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Pouliot will perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto next weekend in three Masterworks concerts with the Sarasota Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger. The concerto was Pouliot’s last concert before the pandemic, with the Rochester Philharmonic in February 2020, also conducted by Lehninger.

“It’s so much fun that we’re playing together again,” said Pouliot. The concerto “is such a piece of bread and butter in the violin world. The very end of the third movement will always be a lot of fun. But it’s long and it’s really difficult.

At 18 months of his last interpretation of the concerto, Pouliot “had forgotten how much I love this piece of music”.

For his part, Lehninger described his first collaboration with Pouliot as “wonderful. It’s always great when you meet a new soloist you’ve never worked with before and click. Music is easy, it’s natural. He interprets this concerto so well … one of the dangers of performing a piece so well known and so popular and so over-performed, (it is) to try to do something differently, to stand out. This was not the case with him. He played it so elegantly, really, really beautifully.

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Lehninger lived in Sarasota between 2015 and 2017, after appearances with the New West Symphony in Los Angeles and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For the past three years he has been Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan. Lehninger was last in Sarasota in September 2019 to conduct the Discover Beethoven season opening concert.

A varied concert program

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is one of Lehninger’s favorites.

“I like Tchaikovsky in general; for me, he is the master of melodies. If you could name two composers who I think are the greatest melodists, I think it would be Schubert and Tchaikovsky. The concerto is full of passion, full of love. There’s a reason he’s overplayed and has survived through the centuries. “

The work is a challenge not only for the soloist, but also for the conductor and the orchestra.

“The challenge on this piece is to make sure that it offers a nice carpet, which means that the orchestra gives the soloist the opportunity to improvise a bit but also to be supported,” said Lehninger.

The program also includes the Abertura Festiva (festive orchestra) by Brazilian composer Mozart Guarnieri and the “warhorse” “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

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The Festive Orchestra, commissioned by the Sao Paulo Philharmonic Orchestra to open its 1971 season, is “a very nice way to start a concert because it is animated with cool percussion movements and rhythms,” said Lehninger, who is born in Rio de Janeiro. He compared it to bread from a restaurant meal. “You go to a restaurant, you eat a little bread before your salad and your main course. It is the bread.

The three works on the program “complement each other”, he said. “It’s not a program where you have the same style between all the pieces.”

“Pictures at an Exhibition,” he said, “presents the musicians of the orchestra very well with so many solos, individuals playing throughout the piece”.

“Portraits in sound”

Masterpieces of the Sarasota Orchestra, Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Blake Pouliot, violin. 8 p.m. November 5 and 6, 2:30 p.m. November 7, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets from $ 35 to $ 98. Classic Conversation with Marcelo Lehninger, 10:30 a.m. Nov. 4, Holley Hall, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets $ 11 in advance, $ 16 at the door. 941-953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org.


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