The Florida Orchestra debuts the world premiere of Violin Concerto by Tampa native Michael Ippolito from Friday through Sunday. It was specifically written for concertmaster Jeffrey Multer and is part of the Masterworks concert series featuring Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
Ippolito, 37, is a graduate of Brandon High School who went on to study at the Juilliard School and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He now teaches music composition at Texas State University. His music has been performed by orchestras throughout the United States and has won awards.
In 2018, The Florida Orchestra commissioned him to compose a piece for its 50th anniversary season. The result was “Triptych,” which was inspired by Florida’s natural beauty and power.
“Triptych” contained a short violin solo, played by Multer. At the time, Multer was struck by Ippolito’s string writing throughout the piece. Multer said: “Well, if you ever write a violin concerto, let me know.”
Ippolito and Multer also discovered they had a mutual friend in Oscar Award-winning composer John Corigliano, who was Ippolito’s teacher at Juilliard. Multer plays Corigliano’s violin, which was passed down by his father, a famous violinist who played with the New York Philharmonic.
The seed was planted, and the rest is history. Or rather, it will make history when it debuts this weekend.
Music director Michael Francis, who is conducting the concert, said that a world premiere is a special event, and that Ippolito’s choice of a violin concerto, an old genre, connects to other great concertists.
“This music has never been heard,” he said. “And once there was the first time someone heard the Beethoven violin concerto.”
Ippolito was again commissioned by The Florida Orchestra for the opening of the 2021-22 season; “a la fenestra” (at the window) was a reaction to the pandemic. When Ippolito returned to Tampa for that world premiere, he had a final draft of the solo part of Violin Concerto, which he gave to Multer.
Multer would send videos of him playing the piece to Ippolito so they could work out the piece together.
Ippolito said that even though he played cello and understands string instruments, there was a great benefit to working out what he has on the page with Multer, changing up the order of notes per his suggestions and improving the sound.
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“It’s very hard to gain that kind of detailed knowledge until you actually have a player in front of you,” he said.
Once the orchestra gets the music, Ippolito has about a week to work with them, but he can only make small changes. He has to figure out how to write for all instruments, even if he hasn’t played them, so he relies on performers to help educate him on what works and what doesn’t. Francis said Ippolito understands the orchestra well and often doesn’t change much.
Ippolito often takes inspiration from influences outside of music when he sets out to compose. He wrote most of this concerto in 2020 and early 2021, when he was reading a new translation of the epic poem “The Odyssey” and other books on Greek mythology. He was drawn to the idea of a travel story when everyone wasn’t able to travel because of the pandemic.
“All of that was just kind of swirling around in my head when I was thinking about writing a concerto and there’s something epic and heroic storytelling about a concerto anyway,” he said. “The thing that I love about the great concertos is that feeling of a protagonist or a hero in the form of the soloist.”
The piece has two movements, told from different points of view. The first, “Rhapsodos,” is told from the perspective of the violinist as the storyteller, with ups and downs, or “tragedies and triumphs.”
The second movement,“Moirai,” is told from the perspective of The Fates, three goddess sisters who determine human destiny. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis allots the thread and Atopos cuts the thread. Ippolito imagined that their perspective would be cold and unemotional, as they see everything that will happen to us objectively. He used strict musical forms to create a repeated pattern.
The whole concerto comes together at the end, with the violinist’s story flooding back in, music swirling around and one final dramatic snip of the scissors.
Multer said the piece is well-written and “not easy by any stretch of the imagination.”
“It’s very rewarding to practice it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to hearing it. I think it’s a great piece that has a great future. I really hope a lot of people will play it.”
He said this is the biggest piece the orchestra has commissioned since he joined it in 2006. He talked about the orchestra’s commitment to playing music by living composers and young composers.
“It’s so important to really acknowledge when an orchestra makes this kind of a commitment, because it’s just getting rarer and rarer,” he said. “Especially for orchestras our size. So the fact that we have made this commitment to this kind of thing I think really puts us on the cutting edge of orchestras.”
Ippolito expressed his gratitude for Francis, Multer and the orchestra’s support of his work.
“It’s hard as a composer making my way in my career, especially coming out of (COVID-19), you realize it’s easy to take these sort of things for granted,” he said. “That there will be live performances and the orchestras will be in a financial position to be able to do interesting projects. So I certainly don’t take it for granted these days. I feel like it’s a really special thing that I’m grateful for.”
If you go
Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4″ with Ippolito’s “Violin Concerto” and Grace Williams’ “Elegy” will be performed Friday at the Straz Center in Tampa and on Saturday and Sunday at the Mahaffey Theater. Tickets range $23-$50 and are available by calling The Florida Orchestra’s box office at 727-892-3337 or online at floridaorchestra.org.