Video Tribute to June Lebell

January 4th, 2018Posted by admin

Prepared for the Arts Alliance of Sarasota County’s Arts Awards Evening, October 2017. Written by John Fischer, narrated by Russell Gant of WSMR, with photos provided by Edward Alley. Interim Production by Susan Burke, Final Production by Don Prieur.


June Lebell’s Fingerprints in the Arts

January 4th, 2018Posted by admin

Written at the request of SILL by Edward Alley for the “In Loving Memory” Tribute Section of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Dec. 31, 2017.

June LeBell’s Fingerprints in the Arts

Written by Edward Alley
(Click for larger version)


Edward Alley carries on June LeBell’s legacy

January 3rd, 2018Posted by admin

Article from

The husband of the late radio personality and music critic June LeBell will take her place as the host of the 2018 SILL Music Monday lecture series.

Like many great ideas, Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Music Mondays started with a group of people who found something missing in their community.

And all they needed to fill that gap was a New Yorker with a commanding voice and impressive resume.

Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning began in 1972 as a group that wanted to get together to talk about current events. The Global Issues lecture series was formed, and quickly grew in popularity. Organizers soon realized, however, that the interests of the community reached beyond politics and other global issues. Like many Sarasotans, SILL audiences cared about the arts.

In response, SILL formed a new lecture series around the topic of music appreciation in 1999 — but it wasn’t until June LeBell moved to Sarasota several years later that the program began its transformation into the series it is today.

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Music Mondays announces new season

January 2nd, 2018Posted by admin

Article from

Edward Alley takes over for June LeBell as morning host of SILL program

A new but familiar presence is carrying on the popular Music Mondays series of conversations and performances presented by the Sarasota Institute for Lifetime Learning.

Edward Alley, retired manager of the New York Philharmonic and the former conductor of the 7th Army Symphony in Europe, is taking over the hosting duties from his late wife, June LeBell, who died last year.

Alley said he is not replacing LeBell because “June is irreplaceable. But we can honor her legacy by keeping this beloved series alive.”

In fact, LeBell helped to plan the 2018 season of musical guests with Alley before her death in April. Alley will host Monday morning sessions at Church of the Palms in Sarasota. Afternoon sessions at Venice Presyberian Church continue to be hosted by Dr. Joseph Holt, artistic director of both Choral Artists of Sarasota and Artists Series Concerts of Sarasota, and Robert Sherman, LeBell’s longtime colleague at WQXR radio in New York and the host of “Woody’s Children.”

The series begins Jan. 8 with composer and pianist Bruce Adolphe, who is also the author of several books on music. The program features a live performance and a video presentation.

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Music review: ‘Voices of Freedom’

July 7th, 2017Posted by admin

Choral Artists of Sarasota’s annual Fourth of July concert shines brighter than just patriotic fanfare.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: July 6, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

My conundrum: How to review a concert by an organization you have helped build, when you also participated in the concert — and it was dedicated to the memory of your wife, June LeBell.

Yes, it’s an ethical problem, but when I presented it to my editor, he said the equivalent of, “Of course, you can do it,” so here goes, following full disclosure:

First, it’s the annual July Fourth patriotic concert. Second, it’s by Sarasota’s only fully professional chorus, Choral Artists of Sarasota, recently renamed to show growth and versatility. Third and fourth, they packed the house and they are better than ever.

As much of an occasion as a serious concert, these annual Independence Day concerts by then Gloria Musicae were first started by June LeBell, who felt a rousing chorus concert on July Fourth would be a good prelude and kickoff to the annual fireworks display — which it was, and still is.

But this year’s concert featured more than just the traditional flag waving patriotic songs and choruses. Artistic Director Joseph Holt builds excellent programs for these concerts, and they always are more than just a parade of patriotic songs. After René Clausen’s fine acapella setting of the “Star Spangled Banner,” perhaps the sub-theme of the concert emerged in “Because All Men Are Brothers,” a setting of the well known Bach chorale with words by Tom Glazer and Pete Seeger.

Following “America, the New Colossus,” to the words of Erma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty, Holt then gave us a group of compositions tracing the struggles of wars fought by America: “Chester,” a favorite of the Revolutionary War; “A Mystic Chord,” and a setting of the Gettysburg Address, for the Civil War; “Flanders Field,” a lovely setting of John McCrae’s World War I poem by Paul Aitken and “Homeland”, based on the “Jupiter” movement of Holst’s “The Planets”, with words by Holst and Spring-Rice.

George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” in a sprightly arrangement by Doug Katsaros was a bit of a respite, and the entire group was nicely wrapped up with “Lift Every Voice for Freedom,” a moving combination of “America” and the African-American Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” perhaps reminding us there are still battles to be fought and won.

Then the traditional fun began with Holt’s own “Armed Forces Salute,” followed by “An American Tribute” of six American favorites and ending with “God Bless America.” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the traditional encore, sneaked up earlier in the concert, complete with kazooing choristers and universal flag waving. The solemn and ever-moving Wilhousky setting of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” made a beautiful coda to this uplifting concert before a completely enthralled audience at the First United Methodist Church.

The Choral Artists of Sarasota, formerly Gloria Musicae, have continued to improve under Joseph Holt’s leadership. Individual singers are better, and the overall blend is becoming more cohesive. Yes, the men do get carried away at times, with a coarse sound that overpowers the women’s voices in the louder passages, but maybe they were just overcome with enthusiasm in the spirit of the occasion.

I was privileged to serve as narrator for two of the selections in the concert, and it’s still quite a thrill to sit on stage, almost in the midst of the singers for part of the concert. Quite a fitting prelude for the evening’s main course of fireworks on the Bayfront.

It was a great afternoon.


Voices of Freedom concert will honor familiar voice

June 29th, 2017Posted by admin

Choral Artists of Sarasota will honor June Lebell at its annual Fourth of July concert.

Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 28, 2017
by: Niki Kottmann | Black Tie Reporter

There will be one fewer audience member at Choral Artists of Sarasota’s annual Fourth of July concert this year.

June LeBell, former singer, board member and executive director of the organization, died April 30 of ovarian cancer.

It was LeBell who came up with the idea for the first Independence Day concert in 2007, so the group decided to dedicate this performance, Voices of Freedom, to her.

“June was kind of insistent that we maintain this tradition of the Fourth of July, and I agreed with her,” Artistic Director Joseph Holt says. “It seemed only right to dedicate this performance in her honor and in her memory because she meant so much to this organization.”

When he talks about LeBell, a wide, unwavering smile crosses Holt’s face. His eyes are distant, caught up in memories, as he speaks of her sense of humor and how she was always eager to help people — especially other singers.

He changes direction mid-sentence when a memory from a Fourth of July performance a few years ago comes back to him. He recalls a concert in which LeBell and her husband, Edward Alley, did a narration — set to music, with the chorus singing softly in the background — of quotes from several American presidents.

“It was a wonderful experience to be up there on stage with the two of them,” Holt remembers. “One on either side of me, as the chorus is singing and they’re giving these great orations. Obviously June was a natural. She could talk anywhere anytime.”

This year, Alley will take the stage again to do a narration for the Voices of Freedom concert. Holt says it will be about 9/11 and instead of being a reflection on a “horrific moment” in American history, it’s about the heroes who emerged in the aftermath.

By taking the stage in his wife’s honor, Alley will give back to the organization LeBell adored.

“It always meant a great deal to her,” he says. “She was doing Music Mondays and writing for the Observer among other things, but she was still a singer at heart.”

Alley says that, along with bringing Holt on board as artistic director, LeBell’s legacy within the organization was making the group of professional singers a professional organization. She gave it the visibility it has now, he says.

This year’s concert will feature the group’s traditional salute to the armed forces along with a tribute to the heroes of World War I and World War II and a new musical setting of the Gettysburg Address. Holt is also excited about the traditional Bach chorale that will be performed with words by Pete Seeger, along with a pairing of “My Country Tis of Thee” with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” arranged by Moses Hogan.

Holt says his goal is to remind locals why we unite on the Fourth of July.

“I felt like this year, considering the seeming divisiveness that we have in our country, we needed to have more of an underscore of who we are, where we come from and why we all do this together,” Holt says. “It makes no difference whether you’re white, black, red, green — we all do this because we believe in this.”


Festival wraps with a delightful mix

June 26th, 2017Posted by admin

Third portion of Sarasota Music Festival offers greatest contrast.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 26, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The closing weekend of the Sarasota Music Festival gave us a combination of music which was traditional, cutting-edge, and classical cross-over. Quite a mixture, to say the least.

Friday night’s offering presented the greatest contrast, starting with the Wind Quintet, opus 10, of Pavel Haas, written in 1929. Although Haas was Czech and a student of Janacek, at times there were hints of Kurt Weill, his German contemporary. Mostly serious, except for the “Ballo eccentric” 3rd movement, with piccolo and E-flat Clarinet, it was given a thoughtful and moving performance by Carol Wincenc, flute, Stephen Taylor, oboe, Charlie Neidich, Clarinet, William Purvis, horn and Frank Morelli, bassoon.

Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, written during his chamber music year of 1842, wound up being the “oldest” work of the weekend. Written in his full romantic and sweeping style, with a few Mendelssohn-like moments in the scherzo, it was beautifully performed by Jeffrey Kahane, piano, Frank Almond, violin, Barbara Westphal, viola, and Brinton Smith, cello.

The balance of the evening featured yMusic, a chamber group of young performers from New York, in a set of works as different and somewhat perplexing as the makeup of the group itself. The combination of flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello is far from traditional, and so was their music. The seven works they performed, although by different composers, sounded vaguely alike, with combinations of sounds and effects, usually starting quietly, building to a shattering climax, and ending quietly. More variety would have been welcome, but their appearance gives evidence that the Festival is indeed expanding its reach in the experience it provides for both students and audience. It was a musical stretch and not to everyone’s taste I’m sure, but is an important addition to the Festival.

Read: Sarasota Music Festival returns with three weeks of classical music

Read: Review of Sarasota Music Festival’s Week Two

It’s difficult to believe that Barber’s Adagio for Strings (1936) was once considered to be adventurous, with its slow moving themes and resolving dissonant harmonies , but it was. Originally a movement from his string quartet, this Adagio has been arranged for many combinations, including a lovely choral setting. The Festival strings, all standing (except for the cellos) and playing without a conductor, gave an absolutely glorious performance, bringing goose bumps and a few tears of joy at the sheer beauty of sound and melody.

Beginning with a crack of the slap-stick, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G-major immediately takes us into this Frenchman’s version of Gershwin’s New York jazz. Filled with “blue notes” and “flatted fifths”, together with Ravel’s brilliant pianism and orchestration, this work is something of a tour de force for both orchestra and soloist, especially when the soloist is also the conductor. Kahane performed both roles brilliantly, especially the quiet and contemplative second movement, which in contrast to the Big City excitement of the first and third, is virtually a nocturne in its melodic simplicity.

Timo Andres’ Paraphrase on themes of Brian Eno, is odd in that it is one contemporary composer’s reflections on the work of another. Ambient and collage are two adjectives used for Eno’s music, and Andres’ musings are just that, providing sounds evoking vast reaches of space, then strikingly romantic phrases sounding like movie underscoring; all reasonably tonal, and yes, ambling along a little bit. Andres uses a steel drum, that pillar of Caribbean calypso, as a new voice and texture, again providing more collage and ambience.

Gershwin and Ravel influenced each other, and both gained from that influence, with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue preceding the Ravel Concerto by several years. Kahane, again conducting from the piano, chose the original Paul Whitman “jazz band” version, orchestrated by Ferde Grofé, replete with saxophones, brass, and tuba. Almost as evident as the soloist was clarinetist Charlie Neidich, who from his opening glissando set the mood for this rousing and energetic performance. At times the execution was more enthusiastic than accurate, but clearly everyone was having a good time with this cross-over classic, especially the audience, which responded with shouts, bravos, and applause.

Returning for several bows, and acknowledging everyone in the orchestra, Kahane ended the concert and the Festival with a quiet, respectful and very moving improvisation on America the Beautiful. Truly a fitting end to an outstanding Festival.


Music review: Music Festival Weekend Two

June 19th, 2017Posted by admin

Students and faculty continue to impress in Sarasota Music Festival’s second weekend.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 18, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

Last Friday’s concert of the Sarasota Music Festival was dedicated to the memory of June LeBell, broadcaster, host of SILL’s Music Mondays, classical music reviewer for the Observer Group, and — my wife. Brief but moving opening remarks were made by Robert Levin, former artistic director, who was returning for his 38th year.

Barber’s “Summer Music”opened this chamber music concert, with students Christine Murphy, flute, Breana Gilcher, oboe, and Sara Aratake, clarinet, joined by faculty members William VerMeulen, horn and Nancy Geores, bassoon, in an excellent performance. Alternating brisk and rapid passages with more contemplative ones, Barber gives us an evocative portrait of a quiet summer evening, interrupted by firefly or birdlike twitters and soothed by calming contrapuntal passages which could signal the coming of nightfall.

Mendelssohn’s delightful 2nd String Quintet was next, with Madeline Adkins and Felicity James, violins, Carrie Jones and Thomas Duboski, violas, and Natalie Helm, cello, and it was given a rousing and energetic performance. Several passages are pleasant reminders of his earlier works, namely the octet and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” yet this is an excellent example of Mendelssohn at his finest.

Brahms’ massive Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major closed the concert, featuring faculty members Robert Levin, piano, Alexander Kerr, violin, Robert Vernon, viola and Timothy Eddy, cello. Certainly of symphonic proportions, this thorny work has such an abundance of musical ideas and working out of themes that it is not easily assimilated on first hearing, but still its innate artistry, construction, and majesty make it a worthy challenge for any audience. From the fiery opening chords of the first movement, through the lyrical song-like writing of the second, to the long working out of the themes in the finale, the work creates a lasting impression. There was a lot of good listening to do in this first-rate performance by these fine players. A few imperfections in intonation were easily pardoned in the overall sweep of sound.

Saturday’s concert opened with Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks Concerto” for orchestra, which could appear an odd choice in an otherwise Mozart evening, but it actually wasn’t. Written in Stravinsky’s neoclassical period in which he abandoned the complexities of his earlier works for a seemingly simpler and more classical style, this was “lean and mean” writing: lean since the texture was clean and clear, and perhaps a bit mean, since every voice was virtually a solo and there was no place to hide, musically speaking. There was certainly no need to hide, for the musicians were more than up to the task, giving us a performance that highlighted each of the players and sections in this somewhat playful, but deadly serious piece.

Alexander Kerr, currently concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, was soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto # 3, written when Mozart was 19 and Concertmaster of the Salzburg Court Orchestra. Kerr plays with a clean, clear sound, and good technique, with excellent execution and musical taste, especially in the lyrical second movement, which was beautiful music making at its finest.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor ended the evening, showcasing both the increasing artistry of the orchestra and introducing a new conductor to the Festival. Brett Mitchell, conductor of the Colorado Philharmonic and a slew of guest engagements, is a real find. His spare yet eloquent technique brought forth all the lovely contours of the work without sacrificing any of the precision. Often conducting phrases more than measures, Mitchell and the orchestra created a beautiful, moving and mature performance that made it even more difficult to realize this is nominally a student festival orchestra and not an ongoing entity. Yes, it was that good!


Music review: Sarasota Music Festival opening weekend

June 14th, 2017Posted by admin

Jeffrey Kahane and the Festival Orchestra opened the festival with palpable energy.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 12, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

If last Friday and Saturday’s sold-out concerts at the Sarasota Opera House are any indication, the Sarasota Music Festival has struck the mother lode in its appointment of Jeffrey Kahane as Music Director. He is a combination of superb musician, outstanding performer and excellent conductor — a veritable trifecta in the music world. And he speaks well.

Friday night’s concert was an adventurous risk in programming: All six of the Bach Brandenburg Concerti in one evening. But it worked, and how. Hearing all of these concerti together, one realizes the genius of Bach’s talent, adhering to the Italian concerto grosso style, while using different pairings of solo instruments. Each solo group had its own sound and style, from three oboes to three violins to no violins, to flutes and violins, to flute, oboe and trumpet, and it gave us a grand tour of all these possibilities. To me, the different sound of each of these groupings was the highlight of hearing all six concerti performed in one program.

Each featured group was a combination of faculty and students. To list them all by name would alone use up all my space, but highlights included the virtuoso horns in the first, the excellent strings in all six, the Vivaldi-like solo violin outburst in the fourth, and of course, the famous high-wire flights of the piccolo trumpet in the second, ably played by Robert Smith, substituting for Michael Dobrinski. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted all from the harpsichord, with a brilliant solo himself in Concerto No. 5.

Saturday evening’s concert opened with Gabriel Fauré’s languid “Pavanne,” performed with the stately elegance it deserves. It could easily be paired with the Sicilienne from his “Pelleas and Melisande” suite, for they are so alike in style and mood.

Jasmine Choi, a 2003 festival alumna, was soloist in Jacques Ibert’s feisty Flute Concerto, long neglected because of its difficulty, but she breezed through it as though it were a mere piece of fluff — which it certainly isn’t. Ibert’s Concerto is truly a virtuoso work, with the soloist playing almost nonstop throughout all three movements. Choi is a cool performer, playing with the near straight tone favored today, executing all the pyrotechnics of the first and third movements with ease, while providing lovely phrasing and sound in the lyrical second movement. Truly a brilliant performance.

How many times have you heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Probably too many to count, but the performance by the Festival Orchestra, conducted by Kahane, sounded fresher and newer than could be imagined. Beginning with “the most famous four notes in the world,” as Kahane mentioned in his introductory remarks, the performance sprang forth with a relentless momentum that was sustained throughout. Never rushed, but always insistent, the constant forward motion Kahane generated in this performance created a grand arch, which culminated in the climactic entrance of the brass with trombones in the great C major chords, which open the last movement. I have always been captured by the beautiful structure Beethoven gave this symphony, taking that four-note motif and giving it permutations throughout the movements, providing us with a wonderful example of inspired classic symphonic form.

The Festival Orchestra had only two, maybe three, rehearsals to prepare this concert, yet the results were excellent. What was most exciting to me was the increasing sense of ensemble, nuance and just plain enjoyment they were experiencing as they progressed through the four movements of the Beethoven. It was palpable.

Kahane galvanized his eager and energetic musicians throughout the evening, and their enthusiasm was transmitted to the audience, who responded with warm, enthusiastic and well deserved ovations.

With this pair of concerts, the 2017 Sarasota Music Festival has indeed created a tough act to follow. Will they do it? It’s probably best to attend the next concerts yourself and learn the answer first hand.


Music review: Outdoor Pops

May 16th, 2017Posted by admin

Sarasota Orchestra and guests score a home run at annual outdoor concert.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 14, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

In a picture-perfect evening Friday, May 12, the Sarasota Orchestra, with assists from the All-Star Singers and American Idol runner-up Clark Beckham, scored not only a home run — but a grand slam with its annual concert at Ed Smith Stadium.

Why is it we all get so excited about being able to enjoy hot dogs and peanuts (and yes, Cracker Jacks) while listening to a symphony orchestra? Maybe it’s the same somewhat perverse pleasure some receive (myself included) by being able to eat popcorn at an HD performance by the MET Opera. But unlike the darkened movie theater, an outdoor concert is an event in and of itself, with casually dressed people from everywhere flocking into the sold-out audience opposite third base to enjoy an evening of popular favorites.

Popular and favorite they were, beginning with “Entrance of the Gladiators,” that wonderful march that is the soul of the circus and followed by the “Star Spangled Banner,” beautifully sung acapella by the eight voices of the All-Star Singers. This fine group from Orlando, which has performed regularly at Disney World, continued with a set consisting of selections from “Damn Yankees” and “Momma Mia,” which turned into a spontaneous clap-and-sing-along and ended with a moving arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.”

Then, the Sarasota Orchestra, which could easily be the “best backup band” in the business, came into its own with “Orange Blossom Special”— morphing every violinist into a “fiddler” charging full speed ahead in a pretty dazzling waterfall of fine fiddling. Following were musical “Portraits of the Beatles,” a selection from John Williams’ fine score for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”and a “Marvin Hamlisch Celebration,” beautifully arranged by Henry Mancini.

The evening’s headliner was Clark Beckham, runner-up in “American Idol” in 2015. Clearly an audience favorite, his casual manner, combined with his fervent country-blues style singing, brought forth big applause and cheers, especially his performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

For his finale, Beckham was joined by the All-Star Singers in “God Bless the USA,” which brought the audience to its feet, singing and swaying with patriotism galore.

The Sarasota Orchestra then got down to the serious business of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which has virtually said “Get ready for the fireworks,” since it was first used for that purpose in an outdoor concert, probably by the NY Philharmonic in their Park Concerts in the 1960s.

And arrive they did — aided and abetted by Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the fireworks once again stole the show with a gigantic display that ended a wonderful evening at Ed Smith Stadium.

No, the mandatory amplification of the orchestra is still not the best, but it has improved steadily over these past four years, and is only a part of the total ambience of the evening, which is the excitement of hearing a great orchestra and guest artists perform in an outdoor setting. No wonder it’s been sold out for four years and had a second concert scheduled this year. Congratulations to both the Orioles and the Sarasota Orchestra on a terrific evening.