When Eleanor Morse died this month, she was remembered primarily in terms of co-founding, with her husband, Reynolds, the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. The Morses were also strong supporters of the Florida Orchestra and lovers of classical music. The couple met at a Cleveland Orchestra concert in their hometown in the 1940s, and Eleanor was a fixture at Florida Orchestra concerts at Mahaffey Theater (she had a box on the left, or violin section, side of the theater) until ill health in recent years curtailed her attendance.
Eleanor Morse played an especially important role in helping to build up the orchestra's music library. In 1996, she and her husband established the Morse Family Foundation Music Collection, which allowed the orchestra to purchase music in advance of changes in copyright laws under the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs that would affect the use of many symphonic works that had previously been in the public domain.
"A lot of early 20th century works, particularly by composers from the former Soviet Union, that used to be freely available in the United States would have their copyright protection restored under GATT,'' said Ella Fredrickson, the orchestra's principal librarian. "It would be a huge advantage if we could buy music — the conductor's score and orchestra parts — before it reverted to copyright. Eleanor understood copyright issues because of her experience in the art world, and she and Ren started the fund to help us buy music.''
With an initial donation of $50,000, the fund allowed the orchestra to acquire the parts to a wide range of repertoire that included works like Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and the Alexander Nevsky cantata, Shostakovich's violin concertos, Stravinsky's Firebird and Petrushka suites, Khachaturian's Spartacus suite and many more.
"Everything we purchased was something we didn't have and might perform,'' said Fredrickson, who worked with former music director Jahja Ling on the musical shopping spree.
Without its own music, an orchestra has to rent the parts of a work under copyright from a publisher. Essentially, that includes most music composed in the past 95 years. "The rental can be very expensive,'' Fredrickson said. "It can cost $2,000 for a major symphonic work. The Morse collection has definitely saved us money over the years.''
Today, the Morse collection has 74 titles, and it continues to grow. Whenever a piece from it is performed, there is a notation in the orchestra's program book. In April, for example, the music used for performances of Prokofiev's Cinderella suite was from the collection.
"Eleanor really understood the value of having good parts in front of the musicians,'' Fredrickson said. "If we own the music, we don't have to rent it. This collection is like gold in the attic.''
The orchestra's collection has about 1,250 titles, the librarian said, including 883 classical works; the rest are pops scores. One recent acquisition for the Morse collection was a new edition of Holst's The Planets when it came out of copyright.
Florida has a respectable library for a regional orchestra. Large, old-line orchestras such as the Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra or New York Philharmonic have as many as 5,000 works in their libraries.
In January, the orchestra will play a concert to honor the opening of the new Salvador Dalí Museum, across the lawn from the Mahaffey. Fittingly, two of the pieces on that program will be from the Morse collection: Gymnopédies by Satie and a suite from de Falla's ballet The Three Cornered Hat.
"Eleanor was so hip, such a cool lady,'' Frederickson said. "This music is her living legacy to the community.''
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New American Theater, which plans a debut season of four musical productions in 2010-11, is moving into BayWalk, the once bustling complex in downtown St. Petersburg that is now mostly empty. The troupe will occupy the former Ann Taylor store and use the space for workshops and classes, rehearsals and offices. There will be an open house on Aug. 14.
The company's first show is Pump Boys and Dinettes, opening Oct. 1 at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Producing artistic director Brian Becker says the budget for the revue is $57,000, and he still needs to raise $30,000. "Professional musical theater is costly to produce. We are hopeful the community and local businesses will support us,'' he says. Information: newamericantheater.org.
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Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson has been cast to sing the title role of Rossini's Cinderella with Sarasota Opera Oct. 29-Nov. 10. Johnson was Hansel in last season's Hansel and Gretel. Tenor Hak Soo Kim and baritone Sean Anderson are also in the production, to be directed by Stephanie Sundine, with opera artistic director Victor DeRenzi conducting the Sarasota Orchestra in the pit. Information: sarasotaopera.org.
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There was an omission in my story last Sunday on the Ringling International Arts Festival, to be held in October in Sarasota. I should have mentioned that T. Marshall Rousseau has been interim executive director of the Ringling Museum of Art for the past year.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.