When the next music director of the Florida Orchestra appears, the musicians and management and audience members will know it.
"There is this lightbulb moment, where everything comes together," says Gregg Gleasner. "It's very clear when it happens. But it rarely happens with someone who is just an okay conductor."
Gleasner knows well the dynamic between conductor and orchestra. As longtime director of artistic planning for the San Francisco Symphony, he was closely involved in the music director search that yielded Michael Tilson Thomas, whose tenure, since 1995, has been wildly successful.
Now Gleasner is a consultant to the Florida Orchestra in its search for a successor to Stefan Sanderling. It begins this season with a series of 11 guest conductors, some of whom are likely to be candidates. The process is bound to be different than in San Francisco, whose symphony orchestra is much older and larger.
"Michael had conducted the orchestra as a guest conductor for many, many years," Gleasner says. "He was immediately on a very short list, because the orchestra loved him, the city loved him. That's very different than the Florida Orchestra. For the most part, none of these conductors has ever conducted the Florida Orchestra before, so there is no history to draw on."
The lineup of guest conductors for the 2012-13 season was put together in a hurry when Sanderling decided, in May, to step down two years sooner than stipulated under his contract with the orchestra. "I had been asked to assist in the music director search, which was supposed to start in a couple of years, not right away," says Gleasner. "It suddenly changed rather rapidly. It was a bit of a scramble."
Gleasner, whose GleasnerMusic consulting firm is based in Portland, Ore., specializes in booking classical artists. His other clients include the Cleveland Orchestra, for whom he is interim director of artistic planning, and Stanford University, with whom he is working on the opening of Bing Concert Hall in January.
Booking for the Florida Orchestra this season was a tricky puzzle because "almost all conductors are booked by May," Gleasner says. "There were a good many people that were discussed where the weeks simply couldn't be worked out. So there will be more people brought in for 2013-14 and probably repeats from this season. When we were trying to figure out whom to engage, at that late point, a lot of it came down to: Who is available?"
Nevertheless, under the rushed circumstances Gleasner and the orchestra put together an interesting season. "These are some of the most talented younger conductors that are out there," he says. "There seems to be a crop. I don't know how it's happened. Suddenly there are so many fantastically talented young conductors on the horizon."
The group includes conductors who have staff positions with the so-called Big Five symphony orchestras, including Joshua Weilerstein (New York Philharmonic), Tito Munoz (Cleveland Orchestra), Marcelo Lehninger (Boston Symphony) and Cristian Macelaru (Philadelphia Orchestra).
The Florida Orchestra was able to retain much of the programming that had been included in ticket brochures before the disclosure in July of Sanderling's early exit, though there have been changes. For example, it was recently announced that soprano Barbara Krieger in Wagnerian excerpts was replaced on the Jan. 11-13 program by Orion Weiss, who will be the soloist in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 27, with Macelaru on the podium.
"I'm just very interested to see how these programs are going to go down with a completely different conductor than planned," Gleasner says.
Gleasner offers the standard criteria for a prospective music director: an outstanding musician with administrative talent and a knack for community involvement.
"But no music director can be all things," he says. "They can't all be great fundraisers. They can't all be terrific gladhanders. No one is all of the above. The most important thing is getting someone who is a great musician and conductor."
French horn recital
Robert Rearden, the outstanding principal French horn with the Florida Orchestra, is giving a recital that includes some works that aren't heard that often, such as En Foret by French composer Eugene Bozza, the luminous "Song to the Moon" from the Dvorak opera Rusalka and a solo horn version of the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. Rearden will be joined by pianist Michael Linville and violinist Lucas Guideri in the Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat Major. The concert is at 8 p.m. Wednesday at St. Petersburg College Music Center, 6605 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Free, donations accepted. (727) 341-7984; spcollege.edu/spg/music/calendar.
Cuban orchestra tours
The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba begins its U.S. tour Tuesday in Kansas City. There are 21 concerts on the tour, which includes two days in the Tampa Bay area, where the Cubans are being presented by the Florida Orchestra as part of its ongoing cultural exchange with musical institutions on the island.
On Nov. 6 — Election Day — Cuban musicians will offer master classes at the University of Tampa during the day, and that evening, members of the Cuba and Florida orchestras will play a concert of chamber music at the historic Cuban Club in Ybor City.
On Nov. 7, the Cuban National Symphony will perform at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The program includes a tribute to Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (who lived in Tampa in the early 1960s) by pianist Ignacio "Nachito" Herrera, Gershwin's Cuban Overture, Jorge Lopez Marin's El Medico de Pianos, Guaguanco by Guido Lopez-Gavilan (who will conduct), Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Parts of the program will be conducted by music director Enrique Perez Mesa, who made his U.S. debut with the Florida Orchestra in May.
The bay area concerts come near the end of the Cuban National Symphony tour, which includes five other stops in Florida: Nov. 3 in Daytona Beach, Nov. 4 in St. Augustine, Nov. 5 in Naples, Nov. 8 in Fort Pierce, Nov. 10-11 in West Palm Beach.
The Florida Orchestra's exchange with Cuba is tentatively scheduled to continue with concertmaster Jeffrey Multer going to Havana in February to play Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the Cuban National Symphony. The full orchestra has plans to tour in Cuba in 2014.
Orchestra gets grant
Progress Energy Foundation made a $200,000 grant to the Florida Orchestra to help underwrite the orchestra's Audience Development and Community Accessibility Initiative, which includes the lowering of ticket prices to $15, $30 and $45 that began last season.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.