The Florida Orchestra's romance with Cuban music continues this weekend when Tiempo Libre is featured in a pair of pops concerts.
"You're going to hear the cha-cha-cha, danzon, boleros, conga, Guantanamera, a lot of Cuban music," said Jorge Gomez, musical director and keyboard player of the group, a seven-member band of musicians who went to school together in Havana and now live in Miami.
Though not exactly a part of the orchestra's multiyear exchange program with Cuban musical institutions — the members of Tiempo Libre are exiles from the island, after all — this weekend's concerts represent a fascinating fusion of Afro-Cuban jazz and symphonic pops. The conductor is Sarah Hicks, whose experience with the band goes back to its 2007 premiere of a piece by Venezuelan composer Ricardo Lorenz called Rumba Sinfonica with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Gomez, 41, hopes that audience members wear their dancing shoes. "Cuban music, it doesn't matter if you are playing with a symphony orchestra, it gets in your body and you're going to want to get up and dance," he said.
This weekend's program includes such inventive music as selections from Tiempo Libre's Grammy-nominated CD Bach in Havana, featuring Gomez's arrangements of the classics Air on a G-String and Minuet in G.
Gomez and his band mates all were classically trained at the National School of the Arts in Havana, and it is kind of amazing that they managed to get together after leaving Cuba. "The trumpet player used to live in Spain, the sax player in Italy, the conga player in Argentina, and I was living in Guatemala," he said from his home on Miami Beach Tuesday. "But Miami is the second Cuba, and everybody came here for the same reason, looking for Cuban people, to eat Cuban food."
Since 2001, the band has been together in Miami, and it has put out five albums, three nominated for Grammys, and performed with many high-profile musicians ranging from Celia Cruz, the late, great Cuban diva, to superstar violinist Joshua Bell. Gomez figures they have played about 50 concerts with symphony orchestras.
Gomez describes the musical style of Tiempo Libre — which means "free time" — as timba. "Basically it's a mix between jazz and Cuban music," he said. "We love to combine jazz with mambo, conga and cha-cha-cha. It's jazzy, energetic dance music."
Tiempo Libre and the Florida Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $15-$45, with $10 tickets for students, educators, military. (727) 892-3337 or 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.
Recital with Mendelssohn trio
Pianist Xu Hui plays works of Schubert, Liszt and Wang Jianzhong in her recital at 7:30 Friday night at the St. Petersburg College Music Center, 6605 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Xu Hui (pronounced Shue Whey), who is on the SPC music faculty, will be joined in a Mendelssohn piano trio by violinist Ginny Respess and cellist Lowell Adams, both members of the Florida Orchestra. The Chinese pianist sometimes plays with the orchestra. $10. (727) 341-7984; spcollege.edu/artscalendar.
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Byrd in the afternoon
Florida Pro Musica and music director Larry Kent wind up their 15th season with a concert that features William Byrd's Mass for four voices at 4 p.m. Sunday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa. The a cappella program also includes motets and madrigals by Palestrina, Lobo, Isaac, Walter, Bennet, Liszt and Bruckner. $20. (813) 494-4709; floridapromusica.com.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.