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Orchestra's performance proves relevance is in eye of beholder

Seekers of relevance would be appalled by this weekend's Florida Orchestra program, heard Friday night at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. With everything on the agenda at least 100 years old, and a Richard Strauss tone poem as the spiciest number, one might be excused for expecting an evening of terminal quaintness.

Naturally, given the contrary nature of a symphony orchestra, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts of the season, with music director Jahja Ling on the podium. Perhaps the lesson here is that relevance is not all it's cracked up to be among the saviors of classical music.

Strauss' Don Quixote was in good hands with the soloist, Stephen Geber, principal cello of the Cleveland Orchestra. Geber portrayed Cervantes' dreamy old knight with not just the requisite sturdiness of tone and glibness of technique but also with a nice sense of humor, making a good-natured little double-take at the ungodly muted bleating of the brass in imitation of sheep. Violist Ben Markwell impersonated the Don's rather more practical sidekick, Sancho Panza, with some splendidly assertive play.

Don Quixote is corny but irresistible, with its unpredictable melodies and downright wacky instrumentation, complete with a wind machine that resembles a factory conveyor belt that Rube Goldberg got his hands on. In probably his most successful tone poem, Strauss did something that never goes out of style: He told a story.

The first half of the program was a study in contrasts, with the finesse of Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major followed by a trio of excerpts from Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust, including a rousing blunderbuss of a finale, the Rakoczy March.

Music review

The Florida Orchestra at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Friday. Program repeated at 8 tonight at Mahaffey Theater (287-8844) and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall (791-7400). Tickets are $15 to $35.