Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s popular Music Mondays series entitled “Musical Conversations with Great Performers” features informal performances and lively conversations with renowned performers of all disciplines. The 2020 Music Mondays are Jan. 6 through March 25. The morning sessions, hosted by the series’ producer, Edward Alley, are 10:30 a.m. at Church of the Palms. Afternoon sessions, hosted by Dr. Joseph Holt or Robert Sherman of WQXR, are at 3 p.m. at Venice Presbyterian Church.

The 2020 season features both returning favorites and artists new to Music Mondays. Among them are a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and pianist (John Musto, who will perform with his equally renowned wife, soprano Amy Burton); Avery Fisher Career Grant recipients (Xavier Foley and Charlie Albright), a Grammy-winning guitarist (Jason Vieaux) and two performers on the melodica (a harmonica that is played with a keyboard), who have more than 30 million views on their social media platform (Joe Buono and Tristan Clarke of The Melodica Men).

Due to popular demand, two artists are returning for the third time: pianist/improvising artist Charlie Albright and baritone Todd Thomas. “We’re delighted to welcome them back,” says Alley. “In his previous appearances, Charlie astounded everyone with his performances of both classical music and a surprise encore of ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ Since then, he’s appeared at Carnegie Hall with the American Symphony Orchestra, the Bergen International Festival in Norway, the Newport Music Festival, and other important venues around the world.”

One special guest each season is designated as the “June LeBell Artist.” Todd Thomas receives the honor this year. According to Alley, Thomas is recognized by opera companies and critics alike as one of the most versatile baritones gracing today’s stages. “Todd continues his reign as one of America’s most sought-after artists,” says Alley. “He’s a true Verdi baritone and a favorite of the Sarasota Opera.”

Other highlights include violinist Margaret Batjer, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and faculty member of the Sarasota Music Festival, and classical guitarist Jason Vieaux, who has appeared with La Musica Chamber Music Festival and teaches at the famed Curtis Institute of Music.

For the first time, Music Mondays will recognize the first prizewinner of the Olga Kern International Piano Competition. “Pianist Olga Kern, was our guest last year,” says Alley. “She added a Music Mondays guest appearance to the list of awards for the winner. We’ll announce that winner after the finals on Nov. 1 in Albuquerque.”

Alley adds that this year’s musical celebration of musical greatness also knows how to laugh. “The Melodica Men will prove it when they come to Music Mondays on March 2,” he says. “Audiences will experience what happens when two classically trained musicians with a sense of humor and inventive genius join forces. Their inventive performances are all over YouTube. It’ll be a thrill to get to see them in person.”

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