Friday, June 22, 2018
Stage

Florida Orchestra principal oboe John Upton takes the lead in Mozart concerto

ST. PETERSBURG — John Upton wondered if Michael Francis would remember him.

The young oboist and the music director of the Florida Orchestra had met just a few months earlier. Upton was playing principal oboe for Miami's New World Symphony, a training ensemble for young musicians. Francis had told the young oboist he had promise, and to stay in Miami for a few more years working on his craft.

A few months later, Upton heard the news. The Florida Orchestra was looking for a principal oboe. It would be a blind audition, in which musicians play from behind a partition. Francis likes it that way since it helps him focus only on sound. Upton hoped that would be enough.

"I remember thinking, 'Is Michael going to recognize me and think, 'He needs a few more years'?"

Instead, Upton's blind audition impressed the music director.

"It was a clear he was a fantastic musician," Francis said, "but also that he had the potential to go much further."

Now Upton, 26, is one of the orchestra's most recognizable faces. As principal, he handles brief solo interludes written for the oboe, often in support of a visiting violinist or pianist. This weekend it's his turn to shine.

Upton will stand by conductor Stuart Malina to play Mozart's Oboe Concerto, which shows off the instrument's expressiveness and versatility.

Upton grew up in Lake Orion, a Detroit suburb. Neither of his parents are musicians. At the start of his fifth grade band class, he chose the oboe as his instrument because he thought it was a bassoon.

"They just gave me a reed," Upton said. "I still hadn't actually seen the instrument. And they said, 'Oh, great, you can make a sound on the reed, you have to play the oboe.' And when all the instruments came in, they gave me a tiny little case and I said, 'No, I want to play the big instrument.' I was not happy."

At 19, in his sophomore year at Eastman School of Music, he won a position in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He went on to earn a master's degree at the Juilliard School.

Upton lives in St. Petersburg with partner Evan Epifanio, a bassoonist for the Sarasota Orchestra. They spend spare time each week making reeds for their instruments, which can easily dry out or warp, while watching Netflix. Having a steady supply of reliable reeds keeps him from worrying about the next concert, in which he plays an especially critical role.

"The oboe is the orchestra leader of the wind instruments, in the highest echelon of importance," Francis said. "There is something in that plangent sound that speaks to the soul."

For Upton, it's the music itself.

"The music the oboe gets to play is what I really like about it," he said. "Whenever there's a love scene in the music or something more somber, there always seems to be an oboe solo."

Mozart's wrote the concerto in 1777, the peak of the classical era, when the number of solo pieces for other instruments passed those written for the violin. As a child, Upton had always loved the first and third movements, but not so much the slower and more meditative second movement.

"I don't think I understood slower music, the beautiful emotional music," Upton said. "Now it's just shifted. I live for the beautiful oboe solos. The fast, flashy stuff, take it or leave it. Anyone can do that stuff if you practice hard enough."

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

Comments
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Published: 06/20/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18