After a long spring and summer of empty stages and virtual performances due to the pandemic, the return of live Florida Orchestra concerts is music to audiences' ears.
The orchestra announced its revised fall 2020-21 season on Tuesday. It opens Oct. 31 with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 at the Mahaffey Theater. To accommodate those who don’t feel comfortable attending a live concert, some performances will also be live-streamed for free at floridaorchestra.org.
A major part of the announcement is that musicians and staff are taking a one-year, 20-percent pay reduction that will happen through furloughs. They will happen over weeks throughout the fiscal year, which ends in June 2021. This is being done in an effort to offset lower ticket revenue and to keep moving forward. Employees will retain their health benefits.
The orchestra received support from the community and from patrons, who donated back about $450,000 in ticket refunds for canceled concerts, as well as other contributions. In March, the board of directors voted to pay musicians and staff throughout the 2019-20 season. The Florida Orchestra received $1.2 million through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Mark Cantrell, CEO and president of the Florida Orchestra, said he was “ecstatic” for the return of live performances and humbled by the way the community came together to make that possible.
He said musicians and staff reacted to the furloughs in a positive manner, saying that everyone was looking at the big picture and pulled together to keep the orchestra going.
“I’m appreciative of the opportunity for us to play music and change people’s lives,” he said. “It’s been a true team effort, with musicians and staff coming together.”
Health and safety are the main concerns for the upcoming season. Maestro Michael Francis planned the return in phases for flexibility, with Phase 1 happening from fall through December.
There will be more concerts than usual, played by smaller ensembles of 20 to 40 musicians for smaller, socially distanced audiences. The concerts will be shorter in length, with no intermission.
Season ticketholders will get to choose their shows first, with remaining tickets going on sale Oct. 12.
The Masterworks series has been expanded to include the new Soundwaves series, which brings in a wider range of music and composers, some that are lesser known. The Pops and Coffee Concerts will also return. Some weekends will see five performances in two days.
Francis said it took a long time to carefully plan the selections for the season.
“I came to understand that what we need is music more than ever because it’s a tumultuous time,” he said. “We wanted to give people both the music that they love, that’s a haven for peace, while giving people an opportunity to explore new things. People are more adventurous now, they’re trying out new hobbies, so they’re more intrigued and inquisitive.”
The season features several Black composers and conductors, including the show Ragtime Kings (Nov. 7) led by trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling and featuring the music of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy.
Francis said that while the orchestra always tries to present a wide range of composers, there was a conscious effort for the concerts to reflect the community this season.
The Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 concert will include the selection Strum by contemporary Black composer Jessie Montgomery, who Francis said “has her finger on the zeitgeist.”
The orchestra will also perform Mozart’s No. 40, which like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was created during a tumultuous time in history. Francis said he chose those works to remind audiences that people can persevere through difficulty.
“We’re not the first to go through this,” Francis said. “Art connects us throughout time.”
Another different element to the fall season will be featuring the orchestra’s virtuoso musicians. Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer will be featured during a concert of Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi; principal bassoon Joshua Baker will perform a work of Piazzolla; principal flute Clay Ellerbroek and principal harp Anna Kate Mackle will star in Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp; and principal percussion John Shaw will be featured on Joseph Schwantner’s Percussion Concerto (wind ensemble version).
Francis is also the principal conductor of the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany. He conducted live, socially distanced performances there over the summer with much smaller audiences.
“You really can make it work,” he said. “It’s still great music being made. It was touching the effect it was having on the audience, how much they were connecting. I saw a lot of people in tears. When you take away the opportunity to go to see live music, people realize how much they miss it.”
Still, he said he missed the musicians at the Florida Orchestra. He credits the community for rallying around the orchestra and strengthening a bond when they couldn’t perform live.
“Thank you to the community for stepping up, and we won’t let you down,” he said. “We know how much we are needed. I feel clear about my purpose and being the steward and guardian of culture for the next generations.”
Lineup for the fall season
All performances happen at the Mahaffey Theater (400 1st St. S, St. Petersburg) and are subject to change. For more information, visit floridaorchestra.org.
Oct. 31-Nov. 1: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (free live stream available at floridaorchestra.org)
Oct. 31-Nov. 1: Legends from the Americas
Nov. 7-8: Ragtime Kings (free live stream available)
Nov. 14-15: Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 (free live stream available)
Nov. 14-15: Brass with a Beat
Dec. 5-6: Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi for Strings
Dec. 5-6: American Heroes
Dec. 11-13: Holiday Pops
Dec. 16-17, 20: Classical Christmas (free live stream available)