For his first season leading the Florida Orchestra, the silken thread running through the selections is not what you might expect from British conductor Michael Francis:
"One of the visions is looking at America as a cultural icon, both in terms of the compositions produced by Americans and composers who were influenced by Americans," Francis said.
The Florida Orchestra announced its 2015-16 season today, packed with red, white, blue and all shades in between. That includes artists who immigrated to America during their careers, bringing influences from their home countries while attempting to find an expressly American sound.
"It was such a beacon for artists around the world," Francis said. "I really just want to take a look at that. Not in an over-the-top way of just American music, but sort of gently weave it into the season."
In the 14 masterworks programs from October to May 2016, expect to hear selections that work toward this idea, including Copland's Appalachian Spring (Feb. 19 and 20, 2016), which Francis lauds for both its respect for simplicity and its "sense of expansiveness and open landscapes."
That program also includes Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Shai Wosner, who stepped in at the last minute for an ill Peter Serkin this season, and ends with Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 6, a postwar piece that begins with a "primal scream" and progresses into the shockingly quiet last movement.
"You're left feeling like you witnessed the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust," Francis said. "It almost feels like a child lonely, walking around, trying to find his parents. He's staring into the abyss and saying 'There's nothing there.' "
Copland also factors into the season opener (Oct. 2-4), with his Symphony No. 3, which recalls the theme in Fanfare for the Common Man. It fills out a program of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Valentina Lisitsa, whom Francis worked with in 2013 to record the complete Rachmaninoff piano concertos.
The orchestra will perform Rachmaninoff's cantata The Bells with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay (Nov. 6-8), based on the writing of American poet Edgar Allan Poe. It is paired with Rouse's Prospero's Rooms and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Others to watch for include Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (Oct. 23-25), Handel's Messiah (Dec. 4-6), Mozart's Symphony No. 39 (Jan. 22-24), Haydn's Symphony No. 96 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9 (April 1-3, 2016) and Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite (April 15-17, 2016).
And it wouldn't be a Michael Francis season without a little (or big) something British. In this case, it's Elgar's Enigma Variations (Nov. 13-15).
"I thought it was important that I brought something from my homeland," he said. "I mean, I'm very at home in America. But I'm still English."
POPS STARS: Francis is leaving his imprint on the pops series, kicking it off by conducting A Night at the Oscars, featuring music from Lawrence of Arabia, Rocky, The Lord of the Rings and the James Bond movies (Oct. 9-11).
Principal pops conductor Jeff Tyzik and guest conductors will conduct the rest of the pops concerts, including a Halloween program with songs from Sweeney Todd and Jekyll and Hyde (Oct. 30-31), and jazz artist Curtis Stigers paying tribute to the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra (Nov. 20-22).
PERMISSION TO ROCK: All together now — "Roooxxxxxxaannne." The orchestra will perform songs from Led Zeppelin (Oct. 16), U2 (Jan. 29) and the Police (May 6, 2016).
Contact Stephanie Hayes at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.