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Midori joins Cleveland Orchestra for tribute to Museum of Fine Arts

ST. PETERSBURG

Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero will be on the podium Monday night for the Cleveland Orchestra's concert at Mahaffey Theater. A highlight promises to be the evergreen Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Midori as the soloist.

"I don't care how many times you've heard the concerto, she brings a great sense of freshness to the piece,'' said Guerrero, who conducted the work with the Japanese violinist in September with the Nashville Symphony, then last week in Cleveland.

"This concerto sometimes can be done as such an aggressive, virtuosic piece, period. Midori is such a great natural violinist that even the hardest moments seem so easy for her that she's able to bring a more lyrical and beautiful presentation, more than just playing a gazillion notes per second.''

Monday's concert, part of the celebration of the opening of the Hazel Hough Wing at St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts, comes before the Cleveland Orchestra's March residency at the Adrienne Arsht Center of the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County (formerly the Carnival Center). Also to be performed are Roberto Sierra's Fandangos and Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The program will be repeated Friday and Saturday in Miami.

In September, Guerrero was named the next music director of the Nashville Symphony, beginning in the 2009-10 season. He'll be taking over one of the fastest-growing orchestras in the country, which moved into a new concert hall, the $123.5-million Schermerhorn Symphony Center, in 2006.

"I think it's the best hall that has opened in the last several years,'' Guerrero said of the 1,844-seat venue. "It goes back to what we know works acoustically, which is the shoebox shape, basically imitating the great concert halls in Europe. This one is kind of a carbon copy of the Musikverein in Vienna.''

Nashville has long been called Music City USA as home of the country music industry, but classical music is an increasingly important part of the community's view of itself. "People there want Nashville to become one of the greatest American cities, and they truly believe that having a world-class symphony orchestra is one of the ways of achieving that,'' said Guerrero, who is in his fifth season as music director of the Eugene Symphony in Oregon.

The Nashville Symphony has benefited from its relationship with Naxos, the classical music record label whose U.S. distribution center is in nearby Franklin, Tenn. In February, the symphony won three Grammy Awards for its Naxos recording of Joan Tower's Made in America and other works.

The orchestra's 81 musicians have a base salary of $51,400 and can easily supplement their income by playing on country recording sessions.

"Outside the symphony, many of the musicians have partnerships with some of the top country musicians in town,'' Guerrero said. "That makes their life interesting because they get to play many different styles of music. And they bring that expertise back to the Nashville Symphony.''

The symphony takes advantage of country talent, with LeAnn Rimes, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Amy Grant and Bill Gaither among its guest artists on pops programs this season.

Guerrero, 38, who was born in Nicaragua and moved with his family to Costa Rica at 11, has an intriguing Tampa Bay area connection. As a teenage percussionist, he was in the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica when its music director was Irwin Hoffman, who had been music director of the Florida Orchestra from 1968 to 1988.

"He was a taskmaster,'' Guerrero said of Hoffman. "He was the old-style conductor, the Fritz Reiner, the George Szell type that really put fear into the musicians. Either you play well or you're going to be looking for a job tomorrow. We were all afraid of him.''

Guerrero soon left for school in the United States at Baylor University and Northwestern University, but he would play with the Costa Rican orchestra on visits back home. "I played with (Hoffman) a lot over the years. I never became friends. He was the kind of conductor that kept a very long distance from his players.''

Hoffman, now 83, has continued to work in Latin America, most recently as music director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bogota, Colombia.

Guerrero's memories of Hoffman are similar to those of veteran Florida Orchestra members who have horror stories of the maestro's tantrums.

"As I look back at it, I recognize that he did many good things for the orchestra and the musicians,'' the percussionist turned conductor said. "Even though we were all frightened of him, we recognized that he knew his craft incredibly well. He was always on top of us and wanted to get the best out of us, even if it meant blowing some steam from time to time. That orchestra never sounded better.''

John Fleming can be reached at

fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

. IF YOU GO

Cleveland

Orchestra

The orchestra plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $35-$65; those 55 and older or younger than 18 receive $10 off regular prices. (727) 898-2100 or (813) 287-8844; www.

ticketmaster.com.

Midori joins Cleveland Orchestra for tribute to Museum of Fine Arts 03/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 3:12pm]

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