ST. PETERSBURG — Officially, the Florida Orchestra has postponed all concerts through April 5 based on the recommendation of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis against large public gatherings.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus, it is likely that the orchestra may remain silent for a longer period of time and may not have an opportunity to complete the remaining concerts in its current season. Each of the orchestra’s primary venues have shuttered during this phase of social isolation: The Straz Center is closed through at least April 19; the Mahaffey Theater, under the management of Big3 Entertainment, announced it would remain closed until the crisis had passed; and Ruth Eckerd Hall’s March 19 update indicates show cancellations stretch into early May.
But there is some good news.
The Florida Orchestra expects to return in the fall with a full calendar, including a continuation of its two-year Beethoven celebration. In fact, the 2020-21 Florida Orchestra Masterworks season will get underway with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and its glorious “Ode to Joy.”
Music Director Michael Francis is going big to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a deep dive into his life, music and influence using major works in Beethoven’s repertoire and beyond. TFO’s 53rd season includes one of Beethoven’s supreme achievements, Missa Solemnis, and the larger Mahler arrangements of both Beethoven’s Ninth and Seventh symphonies, as well as Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, enhanced by TFO visual artist-in-residence Geff Strik. The season also includes beloved favorites such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and featured violinist Karen Gomyo, as well as popular standards that range from the Music of Star Wars to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue to the cutting-edge Fly Dance Company.
“We are continuing our deep dive into Beethoven for a second season because his immense influence has shaped our music and world for 250 years,” said Maestro Francis, referring to the anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in December 2020. “Tampa Bay deserves to experience these major works with an enormous orchestra firing on all cylinders. We want audiences to feel the music live and breathe and be overwhelmed by sound and emotion. Every time we hear and learn about these great works, we understand ourselves and our world a little better.”
The season’s big moments are part of the orchestra’s core series, the 14-concert Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series, which opens Oct. 2-4. It will be the first time for TFO to perform the Mahler arrangements of Beethoven’s Ninth and Seventh symphonies — often called “Beethoven on steroids.” They are the original works, with a few tweaks, powered by an orchestra larger than Beethoven could have imagined. The Ninth features The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, which also will be center stage for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, a demanding, 90-minute work that TFO has performed only once before more than 20 years ago.
The nine-concert Raymond James pops series starts off with a bang when Maestro Francis conducts Tchaikovsky Pops Spectacular, which includes the 1812 Overture, on Oct. 9 and 10; and goes intergalactic with Bob Bernhardt at the helm of the Music of Star Wars, which will include John Williams’ music from every movie in the saga. Highlights include William Waldrop on The Magic of Rodgers & Hammerstein, TFO’s own Principal Guest Conductor Stuart Malina performing and conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and TFO Associate Conductor Daniel Black with Fly Dance Company, which pairs classical music with mind-blowing contemporary dance moves. Other highlights include TFO’s annual Holiday Pops, Valentine’s Pops and Mariachi Cobre, who perform for millions each year at Walt Disney World’s Epcot.
The light-symphonic matinee Coffee Series, led by Principal Guest Conductor Stuart Malina, offers up the Music of John Williams, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and Spirit of America, with music from some of America’s great composers such as Gershwin, Copland and more. All come with complimentary coffee and doughnuts, along with a dose of humor, at morning concerts in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
The orchestra is planning a wide variety of community partnerships for the upcoming season. A full schedule of TFO’s community concerts such as Inside the Music, Sing Out Tampa Bay, full-orchestra Family Concerts, Happy Hour concerts at Armature Works, and more will be released over the summer.