Soprano Johanna Fincher opens Sarasota Music Club’s New Season

By Dale Jensen

This year, 2022, marks the 92nd year of the Sarasota Music Club. Originally it was part of the Women’s Club, whose members felt that the bustling town of Sarasota (not much more than a fishing village at that time) needed classical music. They brought in pianists and singers from Tampa and beyond to present concerts here, and through the years encouraged the formation of the various local organizations that evolved into the fine professional symphony, opera, choruses, ballet and theatre that we enjoy in such abundance today. Bradenton (or Braidentown, our sister city to the north ) saw the formation of the Manatee Music Club, formed for similar reasons. A few years ago, the two music clubs combined under the Sarasota name, and continued to offer concerts and support for educational opportunities for youth in the two counties.

Which brings us to 2022, and the start of another season of concerts, which Sarasota Music Club offers to the community free of charge. The performers on this day are more local than those 90+ years ago: Johanna Fincher from Sarasota, and Andi Zdrava from Venice. Zdrava, new to me, is the Music Director at the Epiphany Cathedral (Roman Catholic) Church in Venice. He has (as we joshingly say in the music world) “lots of fingers,” and he used all of them in the intricate accompaniments for Ms. Fincher’s varied program. With the piano lid on the short stick, he was careful not to overshadow the voice.

Ms. Fincher has a lovely coloratura voice, high, light, and very flexible. Singing in four languages: German, Italian, French and (the hardest of all) English, she exhibited excellent enunciation and impeccable pitch. Not a strong voice in the lower range, she soars beautifully in the upper notes. In her introductions, she mentioned the idea of doing a program of all “Ave Maria”compositions, as her research had found 98 settings of that prayer text. She performed three for this program, by Mascagni, Saint-Saens, and Caccini/Mercurio… and therein lies a tale. My favorite setting on this Friday morning was the last one, harmonized by Mercurio, in a lush, chromatic version, very 20th century. I went to Google and found several Mercurios, all of whom had made a setting of Caccini’s “Ave Maria” melody. But which was this? I called Fincher, catching her between rehearsals, on her car phone, and we spent several minutes searching, arriving at no definitive answer. So, all I can say is, sorry if you missed it! It was gorgeous!

Speaking of gorgeous, in the pew ahead of me, Ms. Fincher’s six-month-old daughter was being cared for. She was as good as gold, apparently used to hearing her Mom sing high and (relatively) loud, and she never once tried to join Mom in a duet. That’s the way to train audiences… start ’em young! Alone, she lowered the average age of the audience to the low 70s.

That crowd, about 50 people, mostly apparently octogenarians like me, epitomised the problem (?) of doing concerts in Sarasota… We have such a wealth of really fine music, constantly available here, that we tend to say, “Ho-hum, another great program in a beautiful place, I think I’ll stay home and catch one of the other six this weekend.”

Ho-hum, indeed!

Next up for the Sarasota Music Club, on November 18th, is a Flutist, Rick Aaron, and his collaborator-summa-cum-maxima-lauda, Lee Dougherty Ross on piano. Be there! You will enjoy!

As will I.