Sarasota Scene: Music & More


Recently, we’ve gorged on music—-several instrumental treats plus the Sarasota Opera’s lovely production of Madama Butterfly.  Last Music Monday, Sarasota Orchestra principal oboe, Christine Soojin Kim, was the guest along with the world renowned Bertram Lucarelli.  Although Mr. Lucarelli no longer performs (he’s 80 and reported that after the age of 70, the breathing just doesn’t work the same), it’s clear he is still passionate about this instrument.  We, the audience, were party to a coaching session with Ms. Kim.  She played a beautiful Mozart piece for piano and oboe, and he offered suggestions and comments as she played and then re-played certain sections.  It was a learning experience for us (and it seemed so for her).  She was a good sport to have a master class before 800 people!

This past week, we were introduced to a young French cellist, Edgar Moreau, and the pianist, Jessica Xylina Osborne who often plays with him.  They were a delightful pair and we learned about how she views playing with a wide variety of soloists and whether he approaches orchestral work differently than solo events.  Note that she calls herself a pianist, not an accompanist, as they are partners in the musical enterprise.  They shared works by Bach and others.

Finally, we got to hear again Sarasota’s own Betsy Traba, principal flutist in the Sarasota Orchestra, along with pianist Joe Holt and soprano Jenny Kim-Godfrey. They performed works by Poulenc, Saint-Saens, Mouquet and Mozart.  This was a Lunch Look, Listen recital at Michael’s on East and part of the Festival of French Music being offered this month and next.  All of these young (and established) musicians are worth watching!


Although we might not be the hip demographic Coolinary is looking to entice upstairs on Main Street, the Chief Penguin and I very much enjoyed our first meal here.  We were early birds at 5:15 for dinner before the opera and were soon joined by some other couples with the same intent.  It’s a surprisingly large space with a long bar and a mix of normal tables and those trendy high ones (my feet always dangle miles above the floor).

Between us we sampled the Caesar salad (the addition of some apple was unusual, but good); cauliflower fritters (three large battered slices) with a blue cheesy dipping sauce; house smoked salmon; sizzling shrimp on a skillet (love the concept, but they were under seasoned which the chef could easily remedy); and the baby back ribs from the bar food section of the menu.  All the portions were decent to large size and the ribs were especially good.  

Entree choices include grouper, salmon, red snapper, beef, lamb and chicken, and at least one vegetarian dish.  Posters on the wall highlight a number of late night events with live music.  Service was attentive and efficient and we plan to return.


I’ve had Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Underground Railroad, on my stack for several months and just finished it.  I found it a powerful evocation of slavery and one woman’s journey toward freedom.  The cruelty, violence, brutality and denigration of slavery are all here along with the courage and risk-taking of those people who are conductors on the railroad.  When Cora makes her escape from the Randall plantation in Georgia she has limited knowledge of the fortitude and resilience that will be required of her.  

Whitehead’s choice to make the stations on the railroad real tunnels and stations is inspired, while his creation of varying sets of rules and expectations for the different states, particularly horrifying in North Carolina and on the surface more civilized in South Carolina, grounds the novel in an unexpected way.  Cora’s travels through these and other states, plus her encounters with slave catcher Ridgeway, graphically highlight how many ways there are to stifle, humiliate and even kill a person.  This book was named to 11 best books-of-the-year lists and won the National Book Award for Fiction—lots of attention and definitely deserved! I recommend it without reservation.


Note:  Photo of Ms. Kim from the orchestra’s web site; restaurant photo from Trip Advisor; Mr. Whitehead’s photo from

Tidy Tidbits: Matters of the Heart (Mostly)

With Valentine’s Day almost here, it seems appropriate to focus on love and romance and lighter fare.  Here are some notes on TV viewing, recent reading and a restaurant (new to us) that would fill the bill for a delicious meal.


Everyone learns early on that Henry VIII had six wives and that they all came to unpleasant or untimely ends.  Historian Lucy Worsley, both author and TV presenter, is our guide and expert host for a look at his queens, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr, from the women’s perspective.  Animated and knowledgeable, Worsley is ever present in this dramatization.  Her showing up as a lady-in-waiting with a wink to the at-home audience is a dramatic device I found more annoying than enlightening.  Nonetheless, this is an almost saucy take on the king’s roving eye and his desperate drive for a male heir.  Entitled, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, this three part series is on PBS.

ON THE PAGE:  Hearts & Flowers

Sometimes one craves chocolate or a bonbon.  And sometimes I need a break from more literary fiction to read a novel that is engaging, has a complement of romance, and requires no mental strain.  Novels like this present problems—tangled family relationships, secrets that are hurtful, failed marriages—but in the end, things slot into place for a happy ending.  Not a messy or twisted resolution like real life, but satisfying in a way that lets you, the reader, forget politics or the petty annoyances of your own life.

Susan Wiggs writes this kind of women’s fiction and her ongoing series, Lakeshore Chronicles, set in the Catskills, follows the trials and tribulations and loves of the various members of the extended Bellamy Family.  The most recent novel, Starlight on Willow Lake, deals with a widowed caregiver who, struggling to make a life for her two daughters, takes on the care of a prickly demanding quadriplegic whose son has been both physically and emotionally distant.  It’s a good read.  

ON THE PLATE:  Tampa Table

We went up to Tampa the other night for an alumni event at a local restaurant and were pleased to be introduced to Grille One Sixteen.  An attractive open space done in dark wood with white chair seats and a very long, white bar, this dining room delivered on the food.  The Chief Penguin sampled the shrimp and grits and I enjoyed the glazed salmon served on a bed of succotash.  The Caesar salad to start was a generous portion and nicely, but not overwhelmingly, garlicky.  Pre-dinner nibbles at the table included dumpling bites and long strips of Nueske bacon (my favorite!) in a tall glass.  Dessert was little glazed doughnuts, a house specialty.  The full menu also includes a range of steaks, baby back ribs, meatloaf, and burgers.  Based on this meal, I’d happily return!

Header photo:  Painting by Carmen Herrera photographed at the Whitney Museum.  Hearts are free clip art from the web.


Tidy Tidbits: Music, Books, Food


Did you ever realize that many of Richard Rodgers’ wonderful songs are waltzes?  At Music Monday, we were treated to conversation with Edward Alley (conductor) and Marcus DeLoach (baritone) along with DeLoach’s warm and luscious renditions of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and other songs from Showboat and South Pacific.  Kudos to June LeBell for the consistently high caliber of programming she presents!

I like that music director Anu Tali is expanding the Sarasota Orchestra’s repertoire beyond the usual standards and pushing the audience to listen outside its comfort zone.  This past week’s concert was nicely balanced between two Tchaikovsky works and Symphony No. 6 (Strata) by contemporary Estonian composer, Erkki-Sven Tuur.  Mr. Tuur was present and addressed the audience before the concert.  His advice to not try and understand the work, but rather to just immerse oneself in the music was helpful, and I found myself enjoying the wall of sound in the opening section (lots of vibrant percussion) and then appreciating the lighter, higher notes that followed.  It was not discordant and hard to listen to like some contemporary music.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is a very familiar piece and one I’ve heard many times, but never quite like this performance.  Pianist Simon Trpceski’s rendition was robust, almost fierce at times, and watching his hands and feet, hands as they sped over the keys and feet as they stomped on the pedals and then retreated, added to the enjoyment.  He and the orchestra were well matched in the intensity of the playing and the audience responded with vigorous applause.


The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.  This slender novel by the late Fitzgerald was first published in 1978 and recently recommended to me by Elsie at Bookstore 1.  Widow Florence Green decides her small town should have a bookstore and that she should create one.  She opens her small shop, adds a lending library as well, and assumes that all will be well.  With economical sentences that pack much into a few words, Fitzgerald captures the personalities and often small-mindedness of a town set in its ways.  Short on action, this is a slice of life in England in the late 1950’s.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien.  O’Brien is a noted Irish author of novels, short stories, plays, and poetry and has been much praised.  This is her most recent novel and I’m reading it for my book group.  The main character, Dr. Vlad, is a charismatic healer and teacher who comes from away to take up residence in a small village.  Some of the chapters seem to stand alone and the characters don’t yet seem to have jelled.  I’m not sure what to make of it, but will definitely finish it.


Cedar Reef Fish Camp.  This casual restaurant off Route 70 in Bradenton near I-75 is a good choice for lunch.  We met Pennsylvania friends traveling south (a repeat of last year) and again found it tasty and reasonably priced.  Their cedar planked salmon is excellent, the French fries too temptingly good, and the regular fish and chips good also.  The special Alaskan Pollock fried fish was skimpy, but then it was one of the cheapest items on offer.  For non-seafood lovers, there are burgers and chicken.  Seating is at booths or tables and the dining room staff were all most welcoming.  They also have two locations in Venice and do take reservations.

Bijou Café.  With white tablecloths, this softly lit dining room always feels and looks elegant, the service is gracious, and the food delicious.  We connected with quasi-local friends here for lunch and appreciated the wide range of menu choices.  The Chief Penguin tucked into the short rib sandwich, the chicken paillard was excellent as always (a larger portion for those hungry at noon), and the crab salad special a hit.  For a leisurely, relaxed meal in downtown Sarasota, this is the place. Reservations recommended as it is popular at all times.

Photos copyright JWFarrington (some rights reserved)

Suncoast Scene: Out and About

Visitors from the North

You know it’s winter up north when your friends and relatives start showing up in Florida.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed getting together with a former colleague from San Francisco, entertaining two of the Chief Penguin’s former graduate students and their three almost adult children (do we feel old?), and catching up with the C.P.’s college roommate and wife from Potsdam (whose wedding we attended decades ago).

This past week we had a delightful time with my Chapel Hill sister and brother-in-law.  They provided the impetus for breakfast at the beach, lunch at Thai Palace, live music (along with fresh fish) at Cortez Kitchen, dinner at our favorite new French restaurant, wandering the Sarasota Seafood Festival, and another tour around Selby Botanical Gardens.  Note the emphasis on food; as Sally says, “we ate, talked, and walked,” and ate some more!









Performing Arts

At Music Monday, we were privileged to see and hear from Betsy Hudson Traba, principal flute in the Sarasota Orchestra, and Cheryl Losey Feder, harpist. Together they played several works, a couple of which had keyboard parts that had been adapted for harp.  It was a treat.

Playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote two plays about Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.  Last year we saw the first, All the Way, and this past week we went to Asolo’s production of The Great SocietyThis second, equally superb play, deals with the tumultuous events (marches, riots, deaths, war in Vietnam) from 1965-68.  It is both instructive and chilling to see this period from 50 years later and to be reminded of how much and how little progress has been made.  Also disturbing in light of the current president.  The play ends with a line from President-elect Nixon about making America great again.  I wondered if it was in the original play.

We ended the week with the Sarasota Ballet.  Under director Iain Webb, the company has made a specialty of presenting the works of choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton.  We were pleased to see the lovely Valses nobles et sentimentales and look forward to more works by Ashton on future programs.


The Florida Suncoast refers to the west-central coastal region from Tampa and St. Petersburg south to Bradenton and Sarasota which includes more than 20 miles of lovely sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.

Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved)