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Florida Orchestra’s new season: A spate of super-sized symphonies

Salutes to ‘Star Wars’ and hip-hop dance will pack in crowds, but for the second straight year, nothing will pack the stage like Beethoven.

The Florida Orchestra’s new season will bring Superman and Luke Skywalker. Mariachi bands and hip-hop dance troupes. Monumental collaborations and innovative modern works.

And yet for the second season in a row, no one will stand above Beethoven.

As the world celebrates Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December, the orchestra will continue its two-year celebration of his work in 2020-21, completing a cycle of his nine symphonies and many of his concertos.

After performing Beethoven’s third, fourth, fifth and eighth symphonies this season, the orchestra will deliver his first (Feb. 19-21, 2021), second (April 24-25, 2021), sixth (Nov. 13-15), seventh (Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2021) and ninth (Oct. 2-4, 2021). Not only that, but they’re performing rarer Gustav Mahler arrangements of the seventh and ninth, completing a two-year Mahler cycle on top of the Beethoven one.

“What I’ve heard is that people really like the way that we approached it, which is not just, Okay, let’s do them all in chronological order, and just douse them in Beethoven,” music director Michael Francis said. “Every time we’ve brought a Beethoven symphony, it’s for a purpose and a reason, a bigger vision.”

Emphasis on big — especially when it comes to another Beethoven program, Missa Solemnis (March 20-21, 2021), which will feature the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. The orchestra has not performed this complex choral masterwork in more than 20 years, and Francis has never conducted it.

“That is sort of the cathedral, the great one,” he said. “For choir, it’s extremely demanding. But it’s this glorious, epic journey of Beethoven, looking at the Mass, but actually above all, looking at how we deal with faith.”

Yet even Missa Solemnis won’t be the biggest production on next year’s schedule. That would be Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony (Jan. 8-10), featuring a supersized orchestra and another collaboration with the orchestra’s visual artist-in-residence, St. Petersburg painter Geff Strik, who will create a series of images for a video accompanying the 50-minute piece.

Conrad Tao will perform Beethoven's PIano Concerto No. 5 with the Florida Orchestra on Jan. 8-10, 2021, on a program that also includes Strauss' "An Alpine Symphony." [ Brantley Gutierrez ]
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“The Alpine Symphony is epic,” Francis said. “It’s one of the biggest orchestrations ever written. It’s this journey of climbing up and down a mountain in a way. ... We’ll use Geff in his way, to show this journey. As you feel the music, you’ll know exactly where you are. But as an aural spectacle, it’s just off the charts.”

The season opener, Oct. 2-4, is also jam-packed, featuring not only Beethoven No. 9 (“Ode to Joy") with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, but Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, originally slated for this season. It will, Francis said, be a blockbuster.

“We want you to come to a concert and have those moments where you can’t breathe," he said. “A full orchestra of that size, at full power, and those great climaxes — there’s few things in life as thrilling to see as that. I believe those moments are just glorious.”

Related: What is Tampa Bay? Florida Orchestra's season opener seeks an answer

Other Masterworks highlights vary in sound and scale. From Oct. 23-25, Andrew Sewell will conduct Debussy’s La Mer, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Ravel’s Tzigane and Haydn’s Symphony No. 104, all part of a nod to English and French composition. Joining Beethoven No. 7 on Oct. 30-Nov. 1 is American Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony, a work inspired by Superman comics. March 12-14, 2021, brings Handel’s Water Music and Terpsichore, along with works by Haydn and Mozart, conducted by Jeannette Sorrell. And on May 14-15, 2021, it’s Prokofiev’s suite from Romeo and Juliet, along with works by Rachmaninoff and Thierry Caens.

Julian Rachlin will conduct and perform with the Florida Orchestra Nov. 13-15, 2020. [ Julia Wesely ]

The orchestra has several guests lined up, including conductor and violinist Julian Rachlin on a program of Mozart and Beethoven (Nov. 13-15); string trio Time for Three joining conductor Daniel Black on a program that includes Beethoven, Mendelssohn and more (Feb. 19-21, 2021); violinist Karen Gomyo joining conductor Larry Rachleff on Britten’s Violin Concerto (April 24-25, 2021); and violinist Stefan Jackiw on Korngold’s Violin Concerto (May 28-30, 2021), a program that also features Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and a John Williams piece from Catch Me if You Can.

Karen Gomyo will perform Britten's Violin Concerto with the Florida Orchestra April 24-25, 2021. [ Gabrielle Revere ]

Among the pianists sitting in this season: Anne-Marie McDermott for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 alongside Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (Dec. 4 and 6); Sara Davis Buechner on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 as Stuart Malina conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 (Jan. 23-24); and Benjamin Grosvenor on a Celtic-tinged program that includes Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, Augusta Holmes’ Irlande Symphonic Poem and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (April 9-11, 2021).

Related: A new anthem: Florida Orchestra's Michael Francis becomes American citizen

The orchestra’s pops season kicks off with Francis conducting Tchaikovsky’s greatest hits on Oct. 9-10. Other highlights are poppier, including a salute to the music of Star Wars (Nov. 6-8); a collaboration with Epcot’s house mariachi band, Mariachi Cobre (Jan. 16); the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein (Feb. 26-28, 2021); a collaboration with Houston hip-hop dance troupe Fly Dance Company (April 17-18, 2021); and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (May 21-23, 2021). There are holiday pops (Dec. 11-13), Valentine’s pops (Feb. 12-13) and big-band jazz (April 30-May 1, 2021) concerts, too.

Epcot's house mariachi band, Mariachi Cobre, will perform with the Florida Orchestra on Jan. 16, 2021. [ Mariachi Cobre ]

The orchestra’s Coffee Concerts series, led mostly by Malina, will bring 15 concerts to Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Mahaffey Theater, all starting at 11 a.m. Among them: Tributes to American composers (Nov. 5), opera (Nov. 19), Beethoven’s Fifth (Jan. 13-14), classical dance (Jan. 27-28), nautical music (Feb. 11), Spanish-inspired works (Feb. 24-25), John Williams (March 24-25, 2021), seasonal sounds (April 14-15, 2021) and poetry (May 5-6, 2021).

Season tickets are on sale now, with various packages for Masterworks, pops, coffee and other series available. Single tickets, $18 and up, go on sale in August.

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA

For the full schedule and tickets, call (727) 892-3337 or see floridaorchestra.org.

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