The Florida Orchestra is back, and no one is happier than Michael Francis.
The organization’s musical director, conductor and public face took a moment out of a busy week of rehearsals to talk about the first concerts in nearly eight months, Saturday and Sunday in the Mahaffey Theater.
They’re socially-distanced, with the reserved seats (just 25 percent of the venue’s 2,000-seat capacity for each show) spaced suitably far apart, in pairs.
Likewise, current restrictions demand six feet between string players, eight feet between winds.
Despite all of that, Francis said, it’s worth it just to do what they do once again.
“If you believe in our art form, if you believe in the beauty of music and the necessities of it to bring communities together, then we must do concerts,” he said.
“And we have a large following here in Florida, a very healthy audience, so we’ve a lot of people that want to come and hear us. So we have to make sure that they’re safe.”
Francis and executive director Mark Cantrell have often talked about the role that the Florida Orchestra can play in “healing” the community.
“If you have someone in there whose life is being blessed and healed and helped, and just entertained by music in the right way, just one person is enough,” Francis explained. “So the fact that we will have hundreds and hundreds in over the weekend – a couple of thousand people there – is great.”
There are two concerts; one follows the other each day. Each performance is shorter than usual – about 75 minutes, with no intermission (to cut down on the milling-crowd factor).
A complete list of the rules can be found here.
Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., the TFO Masterworks series returns with a program that Francis calls “celebratory,” with Beethoven’s beloved 7th Symphony, preceded by Jessie Montgomery’s Strum and Zoltan Kodaly’s Dances from Galanta.
“The whole weekend is around dance, which is ironically the one social activity we can’t really do at the moment. Unless it’s inside your own, personal Covid pod of family!
“Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was once called The Apotheosis of Dance. Actually, the real truth of the piece is around remembering those who have been lost. So there is actually something very uplifting about it – it’s so optimistic, such a joyous and thrilling piece that’s loved by audiences. It really fulfills so many boxes.”
Both the Montgomery and Kodaly pieces, he explained, are joyous and dance-infused as well.
The Masterworks concert will be livestreamed, at no cost, Saturday at 8 p.m. at floridaorchestra.org.
Each day’s afternoon concert, part of a new series called Soundwaves, is titled Legends From the Americas. Featuring composers from North and South America, from Piazzolla to Copland, the program, according to Francis, is a “complementary pairing” with the slightly-more-formal Beethoven Masterworks.
This one, he said, includes “lots of tango and Cuban dance.”
Francis was in Germany during September, conducting similar “safe” Covid-era concerts for Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. “Yes, there were less people, but in some ways it was a more intense experience,” he told the Catalyst then.
Just a week ago, he explained, “I was doing concerts in California. So I’ve had a real taste of it.”
Details and tickets are here.