The Florida Orchestra recently announced that it was dramatically lowering ticket prices for the 2011-12 season. Now it's releasing the programming it hopes will entice ticket buyers. Next season's schedule is heavy on tried-and-true favorites — Orff's Carmina Burana, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and plenty of Beethoven — and there are also some interesting developments in the works.
• The orchestra is looking into a project involving Cuba. The first acknowledgement of this is the scheduling of a May 11-13, 2012, program with guest conductor Enrique Peréz Mesa, music director of La Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Cuba (National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba), featuring music of two Cuban composers. The orchestra is also exploring the possibility of performing in Cuba. "We are committed to a multiyear cultural exchange with Havana,'' president Michael Pastreich said.
• Stuart Malina is the new Coffee Concert series conductor, succeeding Alastair Willis, who has led the series for three seasons. Malina, music director of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania, received a Tony Award in 2003 for his orchestrations of Billy Joel songs for the musical Movin' Out.
• The orchestra plans its first commercial recording for a major classical label of music by German-English composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934), tied to the Jan. 7-8 program, which also features the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. As a young man, Delius spent time in Florida, running his family's orange plantation near Jacksonville.
• Though yet to be announced, the orchestra has a Friday morning series at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on the drawing board. In part, this is inspired by good response to the daytime concerts of the Coffee series, which has expanded to include three concerts at Ruth Eckerd Hall as well as its longtime home at Mahaffey, and the success of weekday matinees in other markets. It is also an effort to compensate for the orchestra's difficulty in getting the concert dates it wants at the Straz Center in Tampa. Four of the 14 masterworks programs and two of the eight pops programs in 2011-12 will not be played at the Straz.
In a bold move, the orchestra is moving to three ticket price categories of $15, $30 and $45, with half the tickets available at $30 or less. This replaces the current price range of $20 to $67. Student tickets will remain at $10. The idea is that better-attended concerts will not only cover any loss of ticket revenue from the lowered prices but also increase the diversity of the audience and motivate more people to become donors.
Music director Stefan Sanderling is scheduled to conduct at least nine of the masterworks programs, including big works such as Mahler's Seventh Symphony, Bruckner's Symphony No. 3, Schumann's Symphony No. 1 (Spring), Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6 and a suite from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake. The Oct. 14-15 season-opening program, featuring the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Children's Chorus in Carmina Burana, will have guest conductor Markus Huber on the podium.
Timpanist John Bannon will be the soloist in Cubanitis, a piece for timpani and orchestra by retired University of South Florida professor James Lewis, in the program conducted by Mesa. Music by Cuban composers Carlos Farinas and Guido Lopez-Gavilan are also on the program.
Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer will lead the orchestra in The Four Seasons, and principal trumpet Robert Smith will be the soloist in Hummel's Trumpet Concerto. Guest artists include five pianists, with Markus Groh playing Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2 and James Tocco playing Eduard Franck's Piano Concerto No. 1 in what may be the U.S. premiere of the work by the 19th century German composer. Soprano Indra Thomas will sing Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Stefan Jackiw will be the soloist in Beethoven's Violin Concerto.
Highlights of the pops series include the return of the Cirque de la Symphonie troupe, Broadway performers Sarah Uriarte Berry and Ron Bohmer in songs from rock musicals, and a French-themed program conducted by Sarah Hicks. The Coffee series will consolidate the expansion it began this season with three morning concerts in Clearwater in addition to the full series in St. Petersburg.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.