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Florida Orchestra's new season lineup: Batman, Bond and a whole lot of Beethoven

A two-year celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth highlights the orchestra's 2019-20 season, which kicks off in September.
Published Feb. 26

You can sum up the Florida Orchestra's upcoming 52nd season in four notes:

Bum-bum-bum BUMMMMMM!

Those who read music no doubt recognized that as the signature motif of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. And get ready to hear it a lot, because the orchestra is going all-in on ol' Ludwig.

To mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth in 2020, music director Michael Francis and the symphony will deliver a spate of his works — some well known, some rarely performed — over the course of two seasons. That includes at least 10 concertos, overtures and symphonies in 2019-20 alone, including a mega-sized, rarely performed Gustav Mahler arrangement of the Fifth.

"It's important we look at him in a new way," said music director Michael Francis. "There's this musty old picture, a musty old bust. Let's clean it up. Let's re-examine. Let's look at what actually goes on with it. And when we do, we see the greatest composer — not just because of the music he did, but because he persevered in spite of all the odds thrown at him, and he created music that was bigger than himself."

Among the featured Beethoven highlights of the Masterworks series: a Mahler arrangement of Symphony No. 3, "Eroica" (Oct. 11-13); Piano Concerto No. 3 (Jan. 17-19); Violin Concerto featuring Simone Lamsma (Feb. 21-23); Symphony No. 4 alongside Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 (April 17-19, 2020); and Piano Concerto No. 4 (May 22-24, 2020).

And then there's Mahler's muscular take on the Fifth (May 1-3, 2020), book-ended in a blockbuster program by Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy. The performance requires the orchestra to add a dozen or more members, essentially doubling the winds and brass, with beefed-up percussion to boot.

So even if you've heard the Fifth many times — and you surely have; it actually opened the current season — you've never heard it like this.

"It's really similar music, but just on steroids," Francis said. "Eight horns, quintuple winds, huge percussion sections. Sonically, people will not quite believe what they're about to hear."

While the masterworks series is once again full of historic names — Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 ("Winter Dreams") and Sibelius' Violin Concerto (Nov. 15-17), Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") (Dec. 6-8), Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 (March 6-8, 2020), Bach's St. John Passion (March 20-22, 2020), Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (April 3-5, 2020) — there are some intriguing newer works, too.

Fans of Holst's The Planets may want to check out Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre conducting his own immersive Deep Field, with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay singing in the aisles and deep-space images from the Hubble Telescope projected on the big screen. That show also features compositions by Adams, Copland and Bernstein, and runs Nov. 8-10.

"That's a really exciting thing, because Florida is a world-leading place, particularly in space exploration," Francis said. "1969 is going to be the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Deep Fields, The Planets — it's all part of what we do, in terms of looking at our art form in a new way."

The renowned Rascher Saxophone Quartet will join the orchestra for the first time on Philip Glass' Concerto for Saxophone Quartet, part of a program that includes works by Gershwin, Bernstein and Christopher Theofanidis. It runs Feb. 14-16.

And the season's opening weekend, Sept. 27-29, will utilize pieces that Francis said reflect Tampa Bay's cultural roots and identity. Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez will perform Grieg's Piano Concerto, and the orchestra will add Ravel's Bolero, Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, Gershwin's Cuban Overture and Mason Bates' Mothership.

Masterworks guests include cellist Maximilian Hornung for Strauss' Don Quixote (Oct. 11-13), violinist Benjamin Beilman on Sibelius' Violin Concerto (Nov. 15-17) and violinist Augustin Hadelich on Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 (April 17-19, 2020). And on Jan. 17-19, the orchestra will partner with the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg to showcase work from a new theatrical arts exhibit during works by Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky.

On the pops side, Sarah Hicks will conduct a tribute to sci-fi space sagas like Star Trek, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey (Feb. 28-29), and Stuart Chafetz conducts a suite of superhero soundtracks, including Superman, Batman and Spider-Man (May 15-16, 2020). And the British Francis himself will loosen his cummerbund to lead a big, brassy James Bond tribute on Feb. 8-9.

"I get to do my Sean Connery impression," said Francis, who played double bass with the London Symphony Orchestra. "I love all the films, always have. And I think the music's amazing. So I thought that would be a really fun one, being British, of course, and me being very biased. And the songs are incredible as well."

From Oct. 4-6, Jeff Tyzik will conduct his own arrangements of the Beatles' original Abbey Road recordings, including hits like Hey Jude and Penny Lane. Popular trumpeter Byron Stripling will lead a tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn Jan. 10-11. And there will be nights of Latin pop (Oct. 25), holiday hits (Dec. 13-15), Prohibition-era jazz and swing (April 25-26, 2020) and the music of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, with vocalists including Tony winner Debbie Gravitte (March 27-29, 2020).

The orchestra's Coffee Concerts, led mostly by Stuart Malina, will feature 14 weekday programs — nine at the Mahaffey Theater, five at Ruth Eckerd Hall — starting at 11 a.m. Themes include spooky-ooky works by Wagner and the like (Oct. 31), the Wild West (Jan. 30), Tchaikovsky (Feb. 26-27), American icons (May 7, 2020), Russian composers (May 14, 2020) and even more Beethoven (March 25-26, 2020). Francis will lead one coffee program featuring Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Barber Feb. 5-6.

The orchestra will announce the rest of its schedule later this year, including additional rock, film, pops and community concerts.

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

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

If you go

For more details on the Florida Orchestra's new season and tickets, call (727) 892-3331 or visit floridaorchestra.org.

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