Even though they are primarily working out of the Dallas area this season, ensembleNEWSRQ founders George Nickson and Samantha Bennett are continuing to grow with their Sarasota-based contemporary classical music group.
The group has expanded its board of directors, which is now led by Dwight Currie, the retired associate director of museum programs for The Ringling, where he helped put together the Ringling International Arts Festival.
The board expansion means that Nickson, principal percussionist for the Dallas Symphony, and Bennett, principal second violinist for the Sarasota Orchestra who will also be performing with the Dallas Opera this season, can focus more of their time on planning concerts and artistic decisions.
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“We don’t have to do all of the administrative stuff,” Bennett said in a recent Zoom interview. “Even if we were still both full time in Sarasota, we’d need to move beyond that. enSRQ has grown a lot in the last couple of years and it was getting to be too much for us.”
Nickson said he and Bennett, his wife, are now co-artistic directors, which allows them to focus on the part of running a performing arts organization that they both enjoy most.
“The only reason why we were interested in doing it is to make great concerts with great people. We haven’t been as interested in building the red tape side of things,” he said. “We always developed, for better or worse, based on the artistic side. Bringing Dwight on as chair is the first step of a long-range vision to eventually not suffer from founders’ syndrome. There will eventually be an executive director. Then we can do even better work on the artistic side.”
The 2022-23 season, the organization’s seventh, will feature six programs, including collaborations with Sarasota Contemporary Dance and the Verdigris Ensemble, the premiere of a new commission from composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and tributes to composers George Crumb and Louis Andriessen, who recently died.
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Nickson said that last season was a time for rebuilding the audience, which grew with online streaming.
“We lost some of our momentum, but we have seen good growth in our streaming profile and have a good number in a broad geographic reach watching our virtual programs,” he said. “And there are still a good number of people in the Sarasota-Manatee area watching online.”
Concerts presented online during the 2020-21 season are still available for free and programs from last season are $10 each at ensrq.org.
The new lineup begins Oct. 10 at First Congregational Church in Sarasota with “First Voices,” featuring works that are new to the group, including “Talow’ Hiloha (Thunder Song),,” a piece by Chickasaw classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate for solo timpani. The program also includes Inti Figgis-Vizueta’s “Imago” for string quartet; Elizabeth Ogonek’s “Lightnings” for violin, piano, clarinet and percussion; and Gabriela Ortiz’s “Pico-Bite-Beat” for percussion, string quartet and electronics.
On Dec. 4, enSRQ will join with Sarasota Contemporary Dance for a program that explores, rhythms, dance and song from around the world, with music by Iannis Xanaxis, Mario Carro, Bright Sheng and Lou Harrison.
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The group will remember composer George Crumb and those he influenced on Jan. 16 with “Crumb.” They refer to him as “the second dean of American music” after Aaron Copeland. Crumb died at age 92 in February.
The program features Crumb’s “Madrigals,” for soprano, flute and percussion; “Idyll for the Misbegotten” for flute and three percussion; and “Black Angels” for string quartet and electronics. It also includes Margaret Brouwer’s 1997 piece “Demeter Prelude” for string quartet.
The Feb. 6 “Vespers for a Dark Age,” is a collaboration with the Verdigris Ensemble, a contemporary chamber choir from Dallas. Together they will perform works by Christopher Cerrone and Missy Mazzoli, who Nickson describes as “two really well-known current up and coming darlings of contemporary music. They are pushing music in similar directions and they both wrote successful operas recently.”
Bennett noted the concert marks enSRQ’s first program with a choral ensemble.
On March 20, “And the Hits Keep Coming” features a co-commissioned new work from Turnage for a percussion sextet. It is part of a consortium involving the New England Conservatory, The Juilliard School, the Eastman School of Music and Southern Methodist University. The concert also includes the world premiere of “Kagome,” a piece enSRQ commissioned from Shaun Tilburg for voice and two percussion. Tilburg is principal percussion for the Phoenix Symphony.
“Commissioning is always a big ‘what if’ because you never know what you’re going to get,” Nickson said. “But we’re always identifying composers who are feeling historically underrepresented. And we want the composer to have completely free reign artistically so we don’t give them parameters. We think that can yield something greater.”
The final concert on April 17 is called “1976,” featuring two pieces that premiered that year. One is HK Gruber’s “Frankenstein!” for chansonnier and small mixed ensemble. The other is Louis Andriessen’s “De Staat” for large mixed ensemble.
Andriessen died last year at 82. Nickson said his piece “raises questions about what our role is here.”
Most of the season’s concerts will be presented at First Congregational Church , but the “1976” program will be presented at the Sarasota Opera House.
Subscriptions are $115 for all five concerts. Single concert tickets are $25 each and streaming tickets are $45 for the season. For more information: ensrq.org/22-23-tickets
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