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Take it from the top: The Florida Orchestra returns

Bill DeYoung



The long-awaited return of The Florida Orchestra begins with a trio of big theater concerts, the regular three-venue roundabout, starting Friday, right?

Au contraire.

OK, after much Covid-caused delay, the official TFO season officially starts Friday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a Saturday concert at the Mahaffey Theater, and a third show Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. This much is true.

The gang’s all here, however, Thursday night at the Palladium Theater. Musical director and conductor Michael Francis, first violinist Jeffrey Multer and the entire orchestra will be on the Hough Hall stage for a program called Inside the Music, taking Vivaldi’s baroque masterpiece The Four Seasons apart (figuratively speaking) in the first half, and performing the piece in its entirety following intermission.

Francis calls this the audience’s “deep dive” into Vivaldi’s mind, his time and his circumstances. “I love being able to share the secrets behind the music,” he explains.

Listeners, he promises, will come to realize how the 18th century compositional mechanics have direct lines to their own lives. “So it’s to create proactive listening, I would say, once you get to know more about Vivaldi, how this piece is so unusual. It was really a revolutionary piece in the way that they approached nature – this idea of it being an individual response to it, not just this idea of some great religious thing that you have no control over.”

First published in 1725, The Four Seasons is a series of four violin concertos, musical “descriptions” of spring, summer, autumn and winter.

“What we’ve seen,” says Francis, “is that when people come into Inside the Music, they move from being kind of calm observers to actually being passionate … I wouldn’t use the word evangelists, but certainly people with whom the music connects in a deep way.

“And it’s not about having prior knowledge of major and minor chords, it’s about being a human being. Our desire is always to connect it to the human story behind the music so that you can really relate to it.”

The end result, he summarizes, is that “when you listen to it, it’s a far, far deeper experience.”

The experience gets even deeper with the trio of big weekend concerts – the program is the same at each venue – with not only another full performance of The Four Seasons, but Beethoven’s immortal 5th Symphony, and a newly-commissioned work by Tampa-born composer Michal Ippolito, a la fenestra.

Ippolito, who composed Triptych for the 50th anniversary of TFO in 2018, and has been commissioned to write a violin concerto for next season, is coming in from his home in Texas for the three weekend concerts.

A la fenestra (“Out the Window”) was inspired by the things that connected people during the pandemic, according to Francis. “A short piece, but one of the most memorable things we’ve done.”

Each of the three concerts will be preceded by a 30-minute pre-performance talk – sort of a mini-Inside the Music, without the actual orchestra onstage. They’re free for ticket-holders, but by no means mandatory.

For this season kickoff, Francis programmed Beethoven Five and The Four Seasons quite purposefully. “It’s a real celebration at being back at full size,” he explains. “We wanted to give people two of the greatest pieces of music, that are bigger than just classical music. These are perhaps the two most iconic works of art in the classical music profession.”

The conductor has been planning this one for months. “I’m fit and ready to go and I can’t wait for it. We really are right back in it – no holds barred, off we go!

“There are some things we’re still doing to be safe of course, with Covid, but this is a full season, we’re back and we’re going for it. And we have big pieces!”

Each venue might have its own attendance policy with regard to masks and vaccination records; it’s recommended that you check the individual websites: Palladium Theater, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Mahaffey Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The Florida Orchestra website.




















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