Sarasota Orchestra discovers Mozart and more in year-end concert

Sameer Patel is the guest conductor for the Sarasota Orchestra’s “Winter Dreams” concert.
Sameer Patel is the guest conductor for the Sarasota Orchestra’s “Winter Dreams” concert.

Think of Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 (Paris) as a job interview. It’s winter of 1798, and Mozart, having been trotted around Europe as a prodigy, is 22 years old and in desperate need of an actual income. No longer seen as the boy wonder of classical music, he needs a court position, patrons, someone who will help pay the bills.

“In my mind, it’s Mozart showing off his skills,” says Sameer Patel, who will conduct the Sarasota Orchestra in “Discover Mozart: Winter Dreams,” Wednesday night at the Sarasota Opera House. “First of all, it’s Mozart and every note is in the right place. And it’s genius. ‘You want a fugue, I can write a fugue. Let me give you what you want; I know you’ll like this.’ He was going to present to his audience this sense of his own brilliance. It’s like a musical resume that packs a great punch of how great a genius he was.”

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Patel, who is associate conductor of the Sun Valley Music Festival and recently concluded his tenure as associate conductor of the San Diego Symphony, will lead the orchestra in a program that also includes Debussy’s Petite Suite, Respighi’s “Adoration of the Magi” from the Botticelli Triptych, Massenet’s Meditation from “Thais”, and Vivaldi’s “Winter” from “The Four Seasons.”

Patel described the concert program, which clocks in at just an hour and will be performed without intermission, as having “some hints of winter and also at the same time, a hint of the season, but this isn’t a holiday program.”

Geneva Lewis is the guest soloist for the Sarasota Orchestra’s Discover Mozart concert “Winter Dreams.”
Geneva Lewis is the guest soloist for the Sarasota Orchestra’s Discover Mozart concert “Winter Dreams.”

With Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony locked in, Patel chose French composer Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite, “a lovely, charming work” from the late 19th century to create a “French connection” to open the concert. Petite Suite was originally written for two pianists, but the Patel will lead an orchestrated version with no piano.

And with the December date – just a day after the winter solstice – Vivaldi’s “Winter” seemed perfect to add to the program, paired with Respighi’s “Adoration of the Magi,” the sole nod to the Christmas season.

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“Aside from them both being Italian composers, Respighi has an interest in early music; oftentimes he could even go pre-Vivaldi,” said Patel. Vivaldi composed his “Four Seasons” Suite between 1718 and 1720, while 20th-century composer Respighi wrote “Adoration,” based on a 15th-century Botticelli painting, in 1927.

“I thought those two pieces next to each other brought us a sense of winter, what the season is about,” said Patel.

In the middle of the program is Massenet’s Meditation from the opera “Thais,” with guest soloist Geneva Lewis on violin.

“These days one might hear the Meditation from Massenet’s opera more often than the opera itself,” said Patel. “And for good reason, too, as the Meditation features a beautiful moment of reflection for solo violin and orchestra. We thought it would provide a nice bit of contrast with the Vivaldi, as well as give Geneva another moment to shine.”

Lewis, a student at the New England Conservatory, is a native of New Zealand who won the 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the grand prize at the 2020 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. She made her solo debut with the Pasadena Symphony at age 11. In June she was profiled as a new artist of the month by Musical America Worldwide.

Patel has not previously worked with Lewis.

“By all accounts, she’s immensely talented,” he said.

Discover Mozart: Winter Dreams

Sarasota Orchestra. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22, Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota Tickets $27-$65. 941-953-3434;

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Discover Mozart: Sarasota Orchestra ends year with 'Winter Dreams' concert