Florida Orchestra program celebrates Dalí Museum opening

The Mahaffey Theater, seen from the Dalí Museum gift shop, will host a celebratory Florida Orchestra program on Saturday.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

The Mahaffey Theater, seen from the Dalí Museum gift shop, will host a celebratory Florida Orchestra program on Saturday.

AN AURAL TRIBUTE TO ART

On Saturday, the Florida Orchestra plays a program celebrating the new museum at the adjacent Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The program will also be performed at 8 p.m. Friday at Morsani Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa; and again at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $20-$67, with student tickets for $10. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.

The Florida Orchestra has dreamed up something suitably surreal for its program in tribute to the new Dalí Museum, which is right across the lawn from the orchestra's concert home in St. Petersburg, Mahaffey Theater.

HK Gruber, an Austrian composer, will be the soloist — the chansonnier (a performer of satirical songs, monologues and skits) — in his Frankenstein!!, which is described as a "neo-Gothic pan-demonium.''

"Ah, now I understand why they chose Frankie'' — Gruber's nickname for his work — "in Florida for these concerts,'' the composer said in a phone interview from Vienna in December. "Salvador Dalí is, in a way, a similar artist. You could also say Picasso. My work is like theirs in that I try to combine simplicity with complexity.''

Stefan Sanderling will conduct the program — "Hello, Dalí,'' the orchestra is calling it (ouch!) — which also includes Beethoven's overture Consecration of the House, often performed for the dedication of buildings, plus Milhaud's Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof), Satie's Gymnopedie Nos. 1 and 3 and Falla's Three Cornered Hat suite.

Frankenstein!! is Gruber's signature work, though he has composed many more, and he'll perform it in English here. The whimsical text, chock-full of pop-culture references (John Wayne, James Bond, Batman and Robin, Superman and, of course, Frankenstein), is by poet Hans Carl Artmann, who was "a kind of Austrian James Joyce,'' Gruber said. Artmann, who died in 2000, also wrote the libretto to Gruber's opera Der Herr Norwind (Mr. North Wind).

When others take on the role of chansonnier in Frankenstein!!, they sometimes appear in costume, to the disapproval of the composer. "I will say the piece is in danger because they dress up as Frankenstein or Batman, and they make Halloween jokes,'' Gruber said. "That was not my goal. Just do the narration, and do not make any interpretation. Give the audience a chance to use their own imagination. The figures in the text, like Superman, are symbolic. You will find hidden political statements. It diminishes them to be treated as comic-strip characters.''

While Gruber delivers the text, Sanderling and the orchestra will be occupied some of the time with a battery of toy instruments, from whirly tube to Swanee whistle, kazoo to bird warbler. "Paper bags will be blown up and burst,'' Gruber said. "It is not easy for the orchestra to remain poker-faced through all of this.''

Frankenstein!! was premiered in 1978 by Simon Rattle and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in England, with Gruber as soloist. Now 68, the composer has since performed his 30-minute work countless times all over the world.

"For me, Frankie is like a mirror,'' he said. "I was about 35 when I made this version, and to do it now keeps me in touch with my youth. It's never boring.''

John Fleming, Times performing arts critic

Florida Orchestra program celebrates Dalí Museum opening 01/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 8:43pm]

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