A few months ago, the Sarasota Orchestra named Anu Tali, a 41-year-old Estonian conductor with a heady resume, as its new music director. Her three-year contract with the orchestra began Aug. 1.
Local music lovers have already had a chance to experience her work. She has served as a guest conductor with the orchestra, once in 2011 and earlier this year. Her debut concert as music director is this weekend, Nov. 8-10. The concert is titled "Dawning of a New Season" and it includes Eller's "Dawn," Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody" and Dvorák's "Symphony No. 7."
Tali will be in Sarasota today, and plans to watch her orchestra perform with the Sarasota Opera in "Die Fledermuas."
She spoke to the Herald by phone from her home in Estonia as she prepared for her trip.
How did your new position with the Sarasota Orchestra come about?
I think that it was in 2011 when I was conducting that the orchestra learned that the current music director (Leif Bjaland) was not renewing his contract.
When a new time is starting it's always difficult, but we got through it. Then they asked me to be a candidate to be the music director and I wasn't sure. I remembered very good times with the orchestra, but I wasn't sure. Then I came back to conduct a second time, I think it was in February this year. They had experienced working with a lot of different conductors, and also they knew me better, they knew my physical technique, and I knew them. They were rather timid with me the first time. The second time, it was like a friendship. We were working as equal partners. When they asked again if I would be a candidate, then I was sure.
What is your perception of the orchestra? What are its strengths?
What now starts is the easy part. We already know each other. What it takes to be an amazing orchestra is already there. The have as much passion for what they do in life as I do, and so we can do anything. This is like a good family. Each of them has something that makes them exquisite and we have to combine the things that makes them strong so that they all work together. My instrument is the human being.
I have started an orchestra from the beginning, the Nordic Symphony, and I'm glad I don't have to do that again. Here, all the pieces are already in place.
Have you had a chance to get to know the Sarasota/Bradenton area at all yet? What are your impressions?
I'll tell you, when I landed the first time coming from this dark place, Estonia -- we have the change of seasons but it's very cold and dark -- and when I landed I had the most ridiculous smile on my face. There was sun and this warm breeze. Even if it's humid, I don't mind. Warm, sunny and a breeze, that's me. Also it's so open. There's a lot of space. You can see a horizon.
What current composers do you admire? Which of the traditional composers are your favorites?
When someone has been in music as long as I have, which is all my life, you go through phases. There was a time when I was very much passionate about Beethoven, for example. I love the work of a lot of the living composers but feel that the best music is really what's in my hand at the moment. Because it's not what's there that matters, it's what you do with it.
How can you balance the need to attract audiences with the need to create and offer challenging art?
The most important thing that goes wrong when an orchestra is struggling, as a lot of orchestras in America and in Europe are, is to give discount, and by that I mean discounts on the quality. You have to be excellent. That is the way you get stronger.
All these mp3s and other formats, they are never going to give you the quality, the experience of going to a concert. You have to make sure that the quality is there every time the people come to the concert hall. It's very easy for a concert hall or an opera house to close down, but it's very difficult for them to reopen. And once a city loses those things, its life is gone, and it becomes just a coffee stop on the way to the next city.