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Florida Orchestra coffee concerts get new conductor

The Florida Orchestra's coffee concerts will be led next season by Alastair Willis, a Massachusetts-born, England-educated conductor. In six morning concerts at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, the orchestra will play a wide range of music and feature some young soloists in a more relaxed format than masterworks programs.

Highlights of the just-released 2008-09 schedule, which has its first concert Oct. 2, include associate concertmaster Nancy Chang and principal second violin Sarah Shellman in the Bach Concerto for Two Violins; Sphinx Competition winner Danielle Belen Nesmith in the Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 5; and the orchestra's Young Artist Competition winner, pianist Aza Torshkoeva, in the first movement of the Grieg Piano Concerto.

Willis has been a staff conductor with the Seattle and Cincinnati orchestras. For series information, call (813) 286-2403, (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286, or go to

SANDERLING: Orchestra music director Stefan Sanderling is a candidate for the same post with the Charlotte Symphony. Sanderling conducted the North Carolina orchestra in one of his signature pieces, the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, in February. Three other candidates — Edwin Outwater, William Eddins and James Gaffigan — showed their wares in Charlotte this season, and more will next season, including Andrew Grams, the Florida Orchestra's interim resident conductor. German conductor Christof Perick has been music director in Charlotte for seven seasons.

It is common for conductors to have multiple posts; Sanderling already has three. His contract as Florida Orchestra music director runs through the 2010-11 season. He also is principal conductor of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. This summer is his first as music director of the Chautauqua festival in New York.

MORE ORCHESTRA: James Wilson, principal horn since 1992, is leaving, having won the audition to be assistant principal horn of the Utah Symphony. Also departing is Wilson's wife, Fiona Lofthouse, a violinist. Both were on leave this season as Wilson taught at Florida State.

WIND BAND: The Florida Wind Band makes its debut this weekend in two concerts that music director John Carmichael promises will evoke the memory of John Philip Sousa. "I do Sousa drag,'' said Carmichael, who will impersonate the legendary bandleader and conduct a program that includes Sousa marches, Morton Gould's West Point Symphony and excerpts from The Sound of Music.

Carmichael, director of bands at the University of South Florida, has put together a band of about 50 players. Performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Falk Theatre, Tampa, and 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Petersburg High School. $10, $20. (813) 974-0494.

WINNER: Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, a St. Petersburg native, recently won the $3,000 first prize in the Florida Suncoast Opera Guild's annual competition. Miller, 29, a Boca Ciega High School grad who studied at USF, the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard Opera Center, is joining the young artists program at Los Angeles Opera. "The prize is such a blessing and couldn't have come at a better time,'' she said. "It's helping me move to California and further my career.''

SING OUT: John Morris of Sing Live USA is looking for people who want to perform choral arrangements of numbers from Les Miserables, Starlight Express, West Side Story, Wicked and other Broadway musicals. "So far in Tampa, we've got 55 singers,'' said Morris, who puts on concerts of show tunes in Great Britain and Orlando and plans to do the same in Tampa. "Ideally, we will have 175 singers.''

Morris, an Englishman, considers himself the anti-Simon Cowell. "We're the exact opposite of American Idol,'' he said. "I believe that everyone has a voice — all you need is the desire to have a go — so we don't put singers through the hair-raising audition process to be in our shows.''

Sing Live has rehearsals at 7 p.m. Monday and Thursday at First Baptist Church, 302 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Singers are at least 18 and pay $195 to cover the cost of producing the concert, July 12 at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Ferguson Hall. Information: (407) 886-8629;

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Florida Orchestra coffee concerts get new conductor 04/30/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 10:26pm]
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