It can be hard to predict what's going to stand out in the Florida Orchestra's season. Inevitably, a little-ballyhooed program turns out to be a highlight. One of my candidates for the sleeper of this season is the April 15-17 program that includes a pair of Sibelius works, his Symphony No. 7 and the tone poem En Saga. Music director Stefan Sanderling and the orchestra have been concentrating on the Finnish composer the past few seasons. Other standbys of the repertoire I'm looking forward to are Mahler's Symphony No. 6 (Nov. 5-7), Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15 (March 12-13) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, Romantic (May 13-15). Top-level soloists include Mark Kosower in the Dvorak Cello Concerto (Dec. 4-5) and Augustin Hadelich in the Brahms Violin Concerto (May 27-28). Here are five programs that look particularly promising.
1. Sanderling makes his first appearance of the season with Haydn's grandiose The Creation. With a text mainly drawn from Genesis and Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, the oratorio will feature three soloists — soprano Heidi Grant Murphy, tenor Philippe Castagner, baritone Leon Williams — and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, prepared by its new artistic director, James Bass. Oct. 22-24.
2. Time for Three headlines the orchestra's pops programming. Made up of violinists Zach De Pue and Nick Kendall and double bassist Ranaan Meyer, the group performs a funky mix of styles ranging from bluegrass and jazz to Renaissance chorales. No less an eminence than Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic's chief conductor, describes the trio as "three benevolent monsters, monsters of ability and technique surely . . . but also conveyors of an infectious joy that I find both touching and moving.'' Oct. 29-31.
3. The orchestra celebrates the opening of the new Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg with the traditional (Beethoven's Consecration of the House), the Spanish (de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat) and the surreal (HK Gruber's Frankenstein!! A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier & Ensemble). Jan. 14-16.
4. Beethoven's towering Ninth Symphony is always an event. The vocal quartet — Layla Claire, soprano; Frances Pappas, mezzo-soprano; Steven Tharp, tenor; Richard Zeller, baritone — and the Master Chorale will patiently wait through three movements before making their contributions in the finale's Ode to Joy. The concert opens with Schoenberg's hymn for peace, Friede auf Erden. Feb. 25-27.
5. Sarah Shellman, principal second violin of the orchestra, is the soloist in a dazzling, difficult contemporary work, the Violin Concerto of English composer Thomas Ades. Called Concentric Paths, the concerto's sensuous sound suggests a meeting of Led Zeppelin and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. "It is a work of astonishing fearlessness and fierce beauty,'' critic Peter Culshaw wrote. March 25 and 27.