Make us your home page

Florida Orchestra connects sea-themed works, old and new

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra has paid tribute to the big guns of music, with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Mozart's Jupiter Symphony so far this year, with Mahler and Tchaikovsky yet to come.

Between such no-brainers in the Masterworks series, the orchestra sometimes works in a "concept concert," performances built around a theme. This weekend's Songs of the Sea: Britten, Elgar and Debussy is a prime example. Friday's opening at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts rolled out four works inspired by oceans, both literal and personal. Musicians and music director Michael Francis, who conceived and conducted the concert, seemed especially on point in delivering a message that was uniquely theirs, and uniquely ours.

It began with Four Sea Interludes, by Benjamin Britten, from his opera, Peter Grimes. The story follows a fisherman in a coastal village, falsely accused in the death of his apprentice. The performance captured both elements, starting with the establishing shot, a lonely bird flying over the village at dawn. The horns enter like a gathering wave, setting up an authoritative percussion and the tone is set. The fourth movement, Storm, is particularly impressive. Listeners who attended the pre-concert talk should recognize that one without a program.

The newest piece, The Work at Hand, brings mezzo soprano Jamie Barton to the Tampa Bay area with a thrilling performance. American composer Jake Heggie wrote the score with her in mind, as well as Anne Martindale Williams, a longtime principal cellist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who soloed with the orchestra's backing.

The pair have worked on this piece for more than 18 months and seemed fused together, whether vocalizing phrases or pausing between them. Before Heggie got it, The Work at Hand was an unpublished poem by Laura Morefield, about the push and pull of embracing life as it is slipping away. Morefield died of cancer in 2011. From her first entrance, Barton seized the audience with marvelous warmth and power, like the sudden introduction of a spine-stiffening rod. With able backing from the orchestra, the singer and cellist mastered the sudden shifts in the score, alternating rapture and a sense of deep cuts. The performance might be what American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was getting at when he defined beauty as "contrasts held in tension without breaking."

Barton stayed on through Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures. The performance massaged additional meanings out five poems, including Sabbath Morning, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Where Corals Lie, by Richard Gardnett, and The Swimmer, by Adam Lindsay Gordon. The sea themes connected not only land masses but human experience over time.

The concert concludes with the grand opus, Claude Debussy's La Mer. There isn't much to say that Debussy didn't say much better himself, except that this was an inspired rendering of a work that should have special meaning for Floridians. Inspired by Monet's seascapes and the turbulence of Debussy's personal life, the score begins with musical imagery of light on the water. Oboe and flute quicken the pace, building through the lower strings like tides drawing waves from far away. All the strings are fully invested by the third movement, Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea. So, by turns, are the bassoons, all of the horns and percussion in a smashing finale.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

If you go

Songs of the Sea

The concert starts at 8 p.m. today at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15-$45. (727) 892-3337.

Florida Orchestra connects sea-themed works, old and new 11/12/16 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2016 12:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000


    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  2. Channing Tatum drops out of Weinstein Co. movie about sex abuse


    LOS ANGELES — Channing Tatum is no longer developing a film with the Weinstein Co. that dealt with a boy dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse.

    Channing Tatum at the premiere of "Comrade Detective" in Los Angeles. Tatum is no longer developing a film with the Weinstein Company about a boy dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse. (Associated Press)
  3. Plan your weekend: Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, MarineQuest, Florida Orchestra pops in the park, rodeo


    Plan your weekend


    Music weekend: Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and Bruno Mars all in one weekend? We have a playlist of a weekend coming up. Thursday brings Bruno's sold-out 24K Magic World Tour to Amalie Arena. The next day brings the country power …

    Bill Clark and Danelle Dasouqi admire the chalk art on the side walk during the final day of the three day Chalk Art Festival in Clearwater Beach. JIM REED/STAFF
  4. Ticket window: Harry Potter movie concert, Andrea Bocelli, Ed Sheeran, Iliza Shlesinger, Alan Parsons Project on sale this week

    Music & Concerts

    Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:

    British singer Ed Sheeran performs during the Italian State RAI TV program "Che Tempo che Fa", in Milan, Italy on March 12, 2017, 
AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
  5. 13 things to do in Tampa Bay on Oct. 19


    Bruno Mars: Get your Uptown Funk on at the Grammy-winning pop star's 24K Magic World Tour. 8 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $41.25-$131.25. (813) 301-2500.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25:  Bruno Mars performs onstage at 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET)