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Arts Alive! podcast: Michael Francis, The Florida Orchestra

Bill DeYoung



Just as The Florida Orchestra was announcing its 56th season, Music Director Michael Frances dropped by the studio for an Arts Alive! podcast. It was a freewheeling, fun conversation.

Naturally, the next season – which begins in late September – was the main topic of discussion. We did, however, talk about many things orchestra- and Tampa Bay-related, including the imminent departure of TFO CEO Mark Cantrell, who is resigning after four years in the job. Francis had nothing but praise for Cantrell, and gave him credit for helping the organization through the tough years of the pandemic.

Francis, a native Londoner who became an American citizen in 2019, spoke of his love for the St. Pete/Tampa community. Even though he has other jobs, in California and in Germany, TFO is his main gig, his passion and his pride, and he said he could not imagine living full-time anywhere else.

A centerpiece of the 2023-24 season will be a performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which will turn 100 years old in 2024.

“That piece completely transformed the American musical language,” Francis said. “It combined jazz, this brand-new art form, with orchestras and symphonic … and it changed, really, the entire understanding of the potential of jazz.”

Each new concert is programmed with pieces that augment one another, he pointed out. For that particular Gershwin performance, in February, Francis has paired “Rhapsody” with “Herald, Holler & Hallelujah: Fanfare for Brass & Percussion” by jazz great Wynton Marsalis, sections of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town and “Alternative Energy,” a popular, contemporary “junkyard symphony” by Mason Bates.

“Every concert,” he said, “I’m always thinking, ‘How will this impact people in the audience?’ Always.

“For me, the reason I’m a conductor, is that my job is to facilitate this incredible music, to come through these wonderful musicians who play at their best, for one reason: So that it transforms the lives and souls of the people behind me in the audience.”

Click on the arrow below to listen to the interview:

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