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Sunday, Feb 25, 2018
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Florida Orchestra to balance new season with heavy and light fare

In any given season, the Bucs, Rays, and Lightning win or lose, make the playoffs or watch them on television. Such is the nature of sports.

The Florida Orchestra, on the other hand, operates on a different level. Winning and losing aren't part of the equation. Playoffs don't exist. The musicians score hits and misses, but as expressions rather than statistics.

So when the orchestra opens its 47th season tonight, the folks on stage begin an eight-month-long stretch that won't culminate in victory or defeat, but an enrichment of ourselves and our community.

“In sports we cheer and moan together,” says Michael Pastreich, the orchestra's president and CEO. “With the orchestra, we experience our deepest thoughts and emotions together.”

It's easy to gloss over the orchestra's lineup for the season. Check out all the guest artists and what nights require the baby sitter. But we don't often stop to think about why we have an orchestra or the importance of its mission.

“What the Florida Orchestra does best isn't playing the Beethoven 9th Symphony,” Pastreich says. “It's really all about bringing Tampa Bay together as a single community. It's about bringing people together on a more profound level.''

The new season offers plenty of opportunity to dig deep and ponder, and just as many chances to kick back and relax. This weekend's opening masterworks program — performed in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — features the lighthearted “Lollapalooze'' by John Adams, arguably America's most performed living composer. It follows with Beethoven's youthful Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring the soloist Shai Wosner substituting for Peter Serkin, who canceled due to illness. Guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein wraps things up with the colorful splashes of Rachmaninoff's “Symphonic Dances.”

Later this month, the orchestra introduces its new music director, Michael Francis, who takes over the podium from Stefan Sanderling and a dozen candidates appearing over the past couple of years. Francis already has made a mark with intriguing programs, and his first formal stint includes “Central Park in the Dark” by Charles Ives, Edward Elgar's First Symphony, and Samuel Barber's elusive Violin Concerto, featuring concertmaster Jeffrey Multer. The orchestra celebrates the music of Barber with performances of his music throughout the season.

The number 4 seems to be popular this season: the orchestra cranks up the fourth symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Mahler. One of the country's finest choirs, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, joins forces with the musicians in another round of Orff's dramatic cantata “Carmina Burana,” a traditional holiday series of concerts and Faure's ethereal “Requiem.” Guest conductor Stuart Malini leads the band in Dvorak's ever-popular “New World.” Symphony, soloist Karen Gomyo performs Mozart's “Violin Concerto No. 5,” and the orchestra dedicates an entire weekend to the music of Gershwin.

Some of the more intriguing pieces this season include Copland's seldom-played Piano Concerto, Dutilleux's “Metaboles,” “Three Studies from Couperin” by Thomas Ades, Stravinsky's “Petrushka,” and Bartok's Third Piano Concerto. The season ends in dramatic fashion with the Symphony No. 5 of Sibelius.

For all these so-called deep works, the orchestra balances the season with plenty of lighter fare in its Coffee, Pops, Rock, and Family concerts. The bill includes arrangements of music of the Who, the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Nat King Cole, the Mambo Kings, and a weekend dedicated to the film scores of John Williams. Two special events include a night with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and “Ocean Voyagers,” a collaboration with documentary filmmaker Feodor Pitcairn and the Blue Ocean Film Festival. The orchestra also is busy this year with affordable programs geared for kids, and for good reason: Somebody has to buy all those tickets years from now.

But selling tickets hasn't been as difficult as it once was, Pastreich says. Apparently, the orchestra has gotten better at giving people what they want, and they seem to want more of it.

“This is a community that's really hungry for the arts,” he says. “And maybe that's why we're seeing a 34-percent increase in ticket sales over last season.”

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Florida Orchestra to balance new season with heavy and light fare