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The Florida Orchestra is planning its eventual return

Bill DeYoung



Michael Francis conducts the Florida Orchestra. TFO photo.

“What we’re doing right now,” says Florida Orchestra CEO Mark Cantrell, “is we’re trying to do a giant jigsaw puzzle while water skiing.”

Cantrell and Music Director Michael Francis are in the process of arranging a post-pandemic comeback for the bay area’s premiere classical music organization, which went into shutdown mode back in mid-March.


The clock ran out on the 2019-2020 season, which would have ended in the latter days of May; in the meantime, TFO created and posted around 100 videos to demonstrate that it was still very much a part of the community it serves.

The clips ranged from virtual performances featuring the entire orchestra to one-musician demos.  Francis narrated and “conducted” a virtual exploration of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

Summer is always the orchestra’s “dark” time, meaning the musicians’ seasonal contracts have expired and everyone takes a few months off. The CEO wraps up the fiscal year and plans a budget for the next.

The question before Cantrell is: What happens now? “I wish I had a crystal ball, but I don’t,” he says.

With $1.248 million in Paycheck Protection Program money, The Florida Orchestra was able to keep any potential wolves from the door (the annual budget for the nonprofit is $11 million).

Donors, Cantrell enthuses, have continued to give generously; the majority of tickets sold for the concerts-that-never-happened were donated back to the orchestra.

The 2020-21 season was announced in February. It was to begin Oct. 2 with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Cantrell, Francis and the rest of their strategic team are attempting to salvage as much of it as they can.

“Typically, it takes about 18 months to plan a program,” says the CEO. “We’re doing this in a few months. So it’s kind of crazy. But I wanted to let our patrons know that they are first and foremost in our minds, and we will in some way be bringing them a season next year.”

Exactly what the season will look like is, of course, the big question mark. They want to be flexible while remaining fiscally responsible. And keeping everyone healthy as well as happy.

While orchestras in New York, Nashville, Indianapolis and other cities have announced lengthy closures, waiting out the pandemic, TFO is looking at a more pro-active outline.

“We are absolutely planning on being back in the concert halls, because that’s the best setting for us,” says Cantrell. “And it will be socially distanced, and at reduced capacity. But if we can’t do that, we’ll figure something else out.”

On the table are outdoor concerts, drive-in concerts, virtual concerts from auditoriums (with no audience) and more. Cantrell hopes they’ll be able to start in late October/early November.

Of course, the musicians will have to be socially distanced from one another, whatever the scenario.

While puzzling through all this, Cantrell is ever cognizant of how live music can bring joy to people’s lives.

“We’re going to play a very important role when all of this COVID stuff is done in helping our community get back to whatever the new normal is,” he explains. “We’re going to play an important role in helping people heal.”








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