TAMPA — The two-story hall was pitch black, the kind of darkness that greets you when you’ve entered a show after it has started. Guests used their cellphone flashlights to illuminate a path to empty seats, carefully scooting in front of others so as not to spill glasses of wine. The only other light came from candles — thousands and thousands of candles, lining the perimeter of the walls, trickling into rows of seats, taking over the stage.
The white, flameless cylinders of varying sizes created an intimate vibe at Centro Asturiano de Tampa, a historic social club that has stood at the corner of Palm and Nebraska avenues in Ybor City for more than a century. It’s one of the primary Tampa Bay venues for Fever’s Candlelight Concerts series, which began in Spain in 2019 and launched in Tampa and St. Petersburg in 2021.
You may have seen these concerts advertised on your social media accounts, the vague announcements lending an air of mystery. How’d they come to be in Tampa Bay? And who makes them happen?
We got on the phone with Fever, an “entertainment discovery platform” that started the concerts as a way to draw a different, notably younger, audience to classical music.
“Classical music is such an archaic art form,” said Dana Moutis, Fever Originals Manager for the Americas. “Myself being a millennial, I was intrigued by it. Candlelight is able to bring a real-life experience that is educational and not as intimidating. More accessible for a younger generation.”
On the current calendar is a list of shows featuring the music of a wide range of popular artists — Queen, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Radiohead — played by classical musicians, mostly string instruments. The concerts are performed all over the world, from Paris to Los Angeles to Barcelona. Moutis said Fever felt confident there was a demand for this kind of thing in the Tampa Bay area.
The crowd seated at Centro Asturiano de Tampa on a recent Saturday evening was there to hear the music of Taylor Swift. This wasn’t part of her nationwide tour (there were many jokes in the women’s bathroom about how these were the only affordable Swift concert tickets to be had), but a tribute show played by the Listeso String Quartet.
Set aglow by a ring of candles around their chairs, four musicians (Natalie Yu on violin, Vivek Jayaraman on violin, Derek Mosloff on viola and Troy Chang on cello) played an hourlong set that included hits from all of Swift’s albums: “Lavender Haze” and “Love Story,” “Cardigan” and “Blank Space,” “All Too Well” and “Enchanted.”
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The performers change depending on the show, but most of the musicians on stage at Candlelight Concerts spend their days playing with local arts organizations, like the Florida Orchestra and the Sarasota Orchestra.
Yu, who plays with the Florida Orchestra, said the Candlelight Concerts allow her to have a more individual voice.
“We groove, we bop and we essentially imitate the human voice as best we can during these shows,” she said. “Since there are so few of us and so much material to cover, my role as one of the violinists usually involves playing the lyrics one minute and then transitioning to making sure the beat stays alive the next.”
In addition to the Candlelight gig, the cellist Chang plays with the Florida Orchestra, Sarasota Orchestra and Southwest Florida Symphony.
“It’s a nice challenge to play pop adaptations versus classical in that the rhythmic difficulties of matching a vocal line isn’t something that’s normally found in a classical symphony or setting,” he said. “But music is music, and it’s wonderful to get to spread that love of music, in whatever form it’s in, to more and more people.”
Some shows are more traditional, like one featuring a ballet performance set against the works of Tchaikovsky and Brahms, or a Halloween show that conjures spooky sounds.
Moutis said everything about the experience is intentional, and aimed at the ultimate goal of accessibility. Tickets to most shows start at $35. Concerts are a cool 65 minutes. And the venues are not traditional settings for classical music: Most shows in Tampa are at Centro Asturiano; in St. Petersburg, they are often at the Birchwood Hotel or First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg. Fever just recently launched a new series at the Tampa Museum of Art, with shows featuring Vivaldi and the Beatles.
“We localize everything, looking for stuff that is unique and ambient,” Moutis said. “We don’t want the typical performing spaces. That’s the bread and butter of what Candlelight is. Nothing is typical.”
That’s clear from the moment you walk into a show and see all those candles. Rest assured, they are flameless, but we still wanted to know how long it takes to set them all aglow.
“Typically we have anywhere from 2,000 to 12,000 candles,” Moutis said. “Our staff has really created a science to it. It definitely takes a couple of hours.”
If you go to Candlelight Concerts
Tickets generally start at $35 for Fever’s Candlelight Concerts in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Check feverup.com/en/tampa/candlelight for the most up-to-date schedule of shows. Upcoming ones include 100 Years of Warner Bros. on June 2 and A Tribute to Radiohead on June 9, both at Centro Asturiano de Tampa. There is a Pride-themed show June 21 at the Birchwood Hotel called Celebrating Queer Musical Icons. Kids must be 8 years old to attend; anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.